The Fourth Bus Stop (Peter Farrar)
The bus rumbles under him like a rushing heartbeat. He reverses, watching the cyclone fence edge closer in the trembling rear vision.
“Yosi!” shouts the supervisor. “We can probably take you off the dawn shift next week. As long as there’s no complaints about slamming on the brakes, throwing orange peels out the window or muttering while you hand out change.”
Yosi grinds at the gears. Last week he told the supervisor it was like pushing a dislocated shoulder into place. He turns the bus towards where the sun comes up. He had not seen sunrises like this since Bali. Clouds tinged pink on the edges like coloured tips through hair. Bali had been his only overseas holiday. It was so brief and long ago he recalled just a few memories. Nearly being hit by a bike in traffic. Spending two days vomiting after brushing teeth with the tap water. Never managing chopsticks.
There were few other cars at this time of day. Headlights bounced and shimmered in grey haze distance. On the main road he was quickly in fourth gear. It was the best part of the day; no passengers, especially no school kids blundering up steps, wafts of cigarette smoke off their clothes and shirts out. The first stop was empty of people and strewn with used take-a-way containers. He accelerated past.
Ahead they walked out of the next stop. Steaming breath smudged the air around them. One signalled him. I can see you Yosi wanted to shout. Can see you there like an outfit ten sizes too big hanging in a wardrobe. Don’t need a retina transplant to notice you.
Yosi only glanced at their tickets. They held them in front of his face as if he was short sighted. He waited for them to sit. With the school kids he liked to lift the clutch abruptly so the bus lurched ahead. They usually fell into each other squealing. It was his way of punishing them for their noise and graffiting the back of the bus. Sometimes he heard their metal rulers gouging into the seats and plastic.
Yosi had been down to his last job choice. Replaced by technology they said. One day keying accounts payable, stamping documents before filing them. Software was then introduced. What was the package? Number thunder? At first he helped introduce it, explaining how it worked to others, returning to manual systems when it failed. Eventually a manager came to his desk, leading him away as if he was pulled along by a guide dog.
“Sorry,” he said. “Times change. It’s just progress. Used to be people who poured petrol. Delivered milk. Collected tram fares. You’re not the first person to have this happen.”
It was winter then too. Clouds so low he could not see the tops of church spires. Shoved hands into pockets where fingers touched loose threads. He drove home to Louise. She was outside, fanning smoke away from the barbecue. He asked if she remembered him saying not to light the barbecue in winter. That all you’ll cook are cobwebs and dead ants. “Sorry,” Louise had said, second time that had been said to him that day. She had wanted to surprise him. Bloody surprises, he nearly said. Wait until you hear mine.
Joggers thump through the mist. Yosi pulls up at the next stop. When did office workers start this early? The older drivers said not long ago all you saw were shift workers with only taxis and garbage trucks on the road. But now the suits and dresses clamoured on. They had sleep deprived faces, as if shaken awake a few minutes ago. Yosi felt the same. His senses were dulled and quite possibly his reaction time too. If a fox or cyclist crossed the foggy tunnels of headlights he might swing the bus into a telegraph pole.
Yosi was glad his parents could not see him. His mother had lived an entire life between a vegetable patch and the kitchen. His father spent six day weeks driving a battered tip truck with loads of top soil smelling like a track through rainforest. Across endless dinners of lamb, garlic and peppers they said everything we do is for your education and your future. Hopefully they could not see out beyond the gates of the cemetery.
He felt distant from Louise. They sat hardly moving on the couch as the heater spread slow warmth. Louise sat with legs tucked under her, shoes discarded and lying on sides. He glanced sideways at her. She never looked back. Never smiled and tipped against his shoulder anymore. Television flicked dully, throwing shadows and light. She was unlined in the silver illumination, as if smoothed by a potter’s hands. Her face barely looked lived in.
“Louise,” he said last night. Not in his usual voice where it sounded like something coughed up. He spoke quietly, so it barely crossed the space between them. His wife looked up the way she did when she sensed something wrong. Yosi once told her she could smell sadness at a thousand metres. He saw her fear.
He flicked a smile and looked away.
The mist thins. Now it only appears in paddocks. It hovers in a thin layer like flying above clouds. Yosi pulls up to an intersection, the fourth stop just ahead. He does not move when the lights turn green. Even when the passengers start calling to him