The Land of Reality
The bus jolted up the hill as the driver changed gears. She glanced at her watch. 2pm. Only twenty minutes more of what was seeming a longer than usual trip. Even if punctuated by a successfully completed Sudoku ( medium) and the distraction of one swaying passenger. Either tipsy or verging on the possibility of a psychosis. She had gone to town the previous day to watch the dragon boat races and join in the Lantern Festival. Somehow that had seemed only a faint echo of the Chinese New Year at the top of the Faraway Tree, but nevertheless an affirmation of what sometimes seemed a dream. The Faraway Tree was indeed, faraway, and the characters a fading memory.
On past the pub. No takers.The trip had been fun to start with, but the novelty had worn off.
At the next stop an elderly man, struggling to retain his dignity faced with several steps onto the bus, climbed laboriously aboard, gripping the railing. He attempted to address the driver jovially, but was ignored. And sat opposite.
I looked at him and wondered what was going on behind those pale blue eyes and washed out features. Once strong. Too strong perhaps? He straightened his shoulders as if in a determined effort to gather himself and the fragments of his life visibly shedding each day. The undeniable evidence that his mobility and discernment and more importantly his sense of self forged over decades were under threat.
He caught my eye, but didn't smile. Instead glanced at the driver who was fearlessly speeding around a series of sharp bends, and grasped the rail in front to stop from falling into the
aisle. He winced at the effort and resigned himself to a further round of jolts as the driver narrowly avoided a collision with a suddenly braking truck.
He looked sad now. Regret perhaps that the prime of his life was past. Not that he was about to admit that to anyone! The years when he paraded down George St with his mates to celebrate hard won freedom and the fifty years of working for and identifying with the company he loved.
A company where he was boss cocky and where through admiration or sheer survival his word was law. King at home too as was the way back then. Expecting, and receiving the same obeiance he expected of his employees. And the same polished shoes as well. No moustaches. He glanced at his own shoes now. Polished.
A couple of good natured but long haired surfies boarded and one sat next to him. He visibly shrank from the contact. Could not appreciate the ready smile or the steadying hand. Caught my eye in a silent plea for protection in this alien world. One he had remained insulated from by circumstance and his own inclination. Was he frightened by it now, or protected by his disdain for it? Perhaps too by a latent arrogance that had recently been directed at anyone who disrupted his expectations and certitudes. Bluntness. But hidden beneath it all, a vulnerability. Shown only occasionally and which he would always vigorously deny.
The bus came to a final tired stop at the terminus by a beach of rolling Pacific breakers. The surfies clambered off, whooping their delight. The old man followed , so conscious of his comparison with their youthful vibrancy. I picked up the sweater he had left on the seat, and followed. And took his arm.
"Come on, Dad", I said.
"Let's go home".