Here we have Anthony Self’s brilliant story based on the previously chosen title, ‘The Last two People Left on the Nightbus.’
Please read it and share it with as many people as you can.
THE LAST TWO PEOPLE ON THE BUS
by Anthony Self
His memory is a little hazy now but he recollects a tattooed arm lazily resting out of the driver’s side window of a red Ford Mondeo. He remembers that the car is red because at this time in his life he is twelve years old and his favourite colour is red. At a later point in his existence he will be diagnosed by his family doctor with a mild form of Asperger’s, but this will come as a relief to him and will start making sense of some of the things that he thinks about and will also help clarify why he has a moderate fascination with car colours. But for now, he is twelve, standing at the mouth of an alley way, carrying two heavy suitcases, staring intently at the arm dangling out of the car window.
At the end of the tattooed arm, a cigarette dangles from the owner’s fingertips. There is a deft tap of one of the fingers on the cigarette and ash falls to the asphalt. Edward stares at this for a moment longer, trying to decipher the faded tattoo drawings on the arm, and sets down the suitcases.
“Come and say hello to Danny.” A voice from behind chirps.
Edward does not want to say hello to Danny. He wants to be as far away from the red Ford Mondeo as he possibly can be. The woman briskly walks by him, her arm slightly grazing his. He feels tears bubbling up in his eyes, but he forces them back. I’m not a child, he tells himself. I will not cry in front of him. Or her.
The woman goes to the car window and bends slightly. Their conversation is muffled, but he can make out some words referencing the man in the house behind Edward. At the mention of the man’s name, Edward turns and looks at the window from across the road. He sees the curtain twitch but he doesn’t offer a wave or any sign that he’s seen the curtain flutter. He just looks at the window numbly.
The tattooed arm from the car window reaches for her face and caresses it gently. She lingers there for a second, taking in the large calloused hand, letting it glide across her cheeks and down to her neck. Edward darts his eyes away, and a moment later the woman is in front of him.
“Don’t you want to meet Danny?”
The woman seems to take a moment to absorb this response.
“You haven’t eaten all day. We should get you something to eat.”
Edward stares back at the car.
“You can put these in the car,” Edward finally says, eyeing the suitcases.
The woman nods, and proceeds to do just that.
Edward stares out of the bus window, watching the buildings rush by. He pretends that an imaginary man is running at the same speed as the bus, leaping from one building to another. When he sees a telephone line, he pretends that the imaginary man zip-lines across to the next building. He’s been playing this game for about ten minutes.
A yellow car whizzes by. Edward mentally records this.
“You’ve hardly eaten anything.” The woman says in a matter-of-fact way.
Edward looks down at his McDonald’s chips. They are soggy and limp. He hates soggy chips. He prefers Burger King chips but they didn’t go to Burger King. They went to McDonalds. The red carton with the yellow golden arc sits firmly in his hand. His hands are probably greasy now, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about anything. He feels nothing. He can tell that the woman has been searching for something to say for the last couple of minutes, but the situation is already awkward and stifled with meaningless sentiment. Edward repeats the five lines in his head over and over. It was half an hour ago, in McDonalds, that she broke the news to him. He knew it was coming, but something inside him wanted to shut it out, pretend like it had never happened. His response had been that of a child’s. He knew it, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.
I’m not coming back home.
Another yellow car. Followed by a blue and red car. If the next three cars are also yellow, blue and red in the same succession, he’ll take it as a sign from God and start head-butting the window until his skull cracks open like an egg. The next car is green.
But when are you coming back?
He looks up at the woman sitting next to him, this woman who used to be his mother – too many thoughts racing through his mind, like the imaginary man on the rooftops – going at the same speed as the bus. What was going to happen to him now? Did she not love him anymore? What would he tell his friends at school? Why, of all the places, had she told him in a McDonalds?
Danny and I are moving to Ireland. You can come to visit once we’ve settled.
Never. He would never meet the man with the tattooed arm. Never. It was starting to rain now, and the imaginary man who was running and leaping above his head dissolved as Edward began to imagine the drumming of the rain was actually machine gun fire sent down from the heavens.
It is not long before the bus stops and the woman who used to be his mother takes his hand and they leave the bus. He hasn’t realised that they were the last ones on the bus, and it’s not until he’s seventeen that he realises that although it was dark that night when the woman told him she would be leaving their family forever, she had been wearing her large dark sunglasses when he started eating his cheeseburger.
A Black car roars past the bus as they walk around the corner.