John B Keane: tragedy of narrowly missing your bus

TO begin with I must transport you back a little ways in time to create, as it were, a situation which will put you completely in the picture.

TO begin with I must transport you back a little ways in time to create, as it were, a situation which will put you completely in the picture.

I remember I was walking in the vicinity of the bus stop. There was a number of shawled women but these were safely aboard and were looking listlessly out of the windows.

One or two men were about to board the vehicle but these made great haste when the conductor appeared. The conductor then boarded the bus and all seemed set for the beginnings of an uneventful itinerary.

There was only one person missing but of course everybody knew this. This was the driver. While he was out of the cab there was still hope for late-comers but once in, there was little or no hope for a man who might be fifty or sixty yards away.

Suddenly the driver appeared from around a corner. He was dead on time as usual and he wore his cap at that same rakish angle which was responsible for a thousand flutters in the hearts of female passengers.

He was a big man and his procedure up the street from the corner had a lot of the massive dignity of a grain clipping making slow but graceful headway in front of a faint breeze.

When he reached the bus he stopped and looked at his watch. Then he went around the bus and looked at the wheels.

Satisfied he moved to the front of the bus and gave one long, piercing look around. It was the look of a man who was master of the situation and it was the look of a man who wanted all the sundry to know that he was the master.

No light hidden under a bushel here. Easily then but with that slow, deliberate grace, he entered the cab.

This act of entering had an impressive finality and so it should for it had been rehearsed for years.

He had given all interested parties all the time in the world to be prepared and now that he was in the privacy of his throne-room it was up to others to fend for themselves.

Inside the bus itself the conductor pressed a button. He pressed it at the precise moment that the driver made his last adjustment to his seat. In either case the impression that he should know better would be conveyed to him.

Buses are like elephants. They are extremely slow to start and even when cruising normally they give the impression that they are merely lumbering.

This particular bus started no quicker than any other bus. It grunted and coughed and at a snail’s pace it moved away from the shop where it had rested for so long.

Always, or at least I find that when a bus gets under way things begin to happen. It may only be a pack of village curs who attack the massive wheels and scamper about hysterically trying to give the impression that they would eat the bus but just wanted to give it a good fright instead.

It may be a group of schoolboys who will appear suddenly from nowhere and accompany the great vehicle to the boundaries of the town.

It may be a friendly wave from a party who has no interest whatsoever in either the passengers or destination of the bus.

As I say things happen but of all the things that happen most, one stands head and shoulders above the others and that is the oft-repeated tragedy of the man who missed the bus.

The tragedy is all the greater when the bus is missed only by seconds. If it is missed by an hour or so it means that the next bus is that much nearer.

To have the bus in one’s sights and almost within hailing distance and then to see it move dispassionately away is one of the great let-downs of our time.

It is a disaster when there is no other bus that day and an even worse disaster when the man who misses it is in the habit of missing it. No one wants to give him a lift.

The day in question was no exception to this tragedy of bus-missing. As the bus moved away a tall square man wearing a cap and a long overcoat and with porter stains around his unshaven mouth appeared and looked foolishly after the moving transport.

Under his arm he carried a blood-stained parcel. This would be boiling beef or a few pounds off the shoulder to make the drop of healing soup when he got home. As the bus moved so did he.

He drew almost level with it and in a loud voice, cried out: “wuee, wuee, I tell you.”

If the bus were an ass or a horse it would have stopped but since it was neither it gathered speed and left the panting meat-carrier far behind.

“Wouldn’t you wuee,” he cried after it in despair. “What did I ever do to you?”