Saturday, 14 April 2012

Creating A Timetable

They paid him to drive empty buses. He was the man they called if they were planning a new route. They sent him to a hundred different depots where he would collect a thousand different buses; always different colours, and always with different locations above the windscreens. To him each bus was the same empty giant with pungent smelling seats lined up like teeth at his back.

Three times a day he would drive the bus wherever they told him. At each red dot on his map he would stop and take the exact time. He opened the bus doors and imagined the people clomping up the stairs with heaving shopping bags. He allowed time to sell each of them a ticket. He added up all the stops. The hands of a clock forever revolved in his head. He scribbled digits on dog eared spreadsheets that they gave him each morning.

In the evenings he returned. The men at their desks would click their pens and chew over his data.

This happened once at a bus stop. A woman spoke to him with one foot in the bus doorway. “I’ve been here hours,” she said. “Let me on. What do you mean you’re not scheduled? Let me on.” He calmed the woman. He showed her the spreadsheets. He smoothed things over. Only, when he pulled away he looked at her in his mirror and he thought, I should have offered her a lift. His foot stroked the brake so that the metal frames of the seats chattered behind him, but he kept driving.
At his funeral his grandchildren will remember him as the man with the pencil behind his ear. He was the old man with big ideas and scraps of paper falling from his trouser pockets whenever he sat down. Sometimes he would take one of those scraps of paper and smooth it out on his thigh. This is when he wasn’t telling them stories or showing them his photographs. He would take the scrap of paper and write something on it. Then he would put it away.

This happened once; years after his retirement. His wife saw him returning from the shops with a bag full of post-it notes. She never said anything. He liked to write things down. Later, when she came across the receipt, she slipped it into the bin and never said a word.

At his wake his grandchildren will find their way to his study. They will divide up the magnificent oil paintings he has made for them. The study will smell of pine and tobacco. They will open a desk drawer, expecting to find paint brushes but instead they will find a thousand folded squares of paper. They will open one and see that he has scrawled a series of numbers there. They will spend the next hour digging through the drawer full of numbers and they will wonder why he did this. They will work out that the numbers are times and then they will wonder at the significance of each time. 2:03, 7:36, 8:59, 3:14, 7:00, 12:01, 12:02, 1:48, 6:32. They will ask their grandmother, who will smile at them and never say a word.

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