How Many Zone Series

Karen Eastland

Pulling up to another stop, the tired aging Bus driver inwardly groans at the thought of picking up another fare, because that’s all people have become to him, just another fare. He’s pretty sure he said ‘how many zones’ the other morning after 3 hours of sleep, when his wife climbed into the car. She looked concerned. Her hazel eyes seemed to absorb her husband’s, and was worried.

Margret works in the office of the same bus company as her husband and she was becoming increasingly concerned for many of the drivers, so much so, that Margret got in contact with her union and filled them in on the dangerous situation that was back building. Almost every day, a driver on a split shift has knocked of the drivers mirror on a set of street lights, or scraped the side of the bus along the metal barriers that skirt the highways. Margret knew that it was only a matter of time before a driver fell asleep at the wheel longer than a few seconds. The driver would not only harm himself, but also his passengers.

The highlight of John MacDonald’s working day was stop 71, Warrik Road. The pretty young woman who always got onto his bus reminded him of his granddaughter. The first time he saw her Chestnut brown, flowing hair, he felt quite protective of her. She was always safe on his bus. Today as he pulled into her stop, his bleary eyes turned into smiling eyes and his tiredness all but forgotten. She always dressed in very nice, yet sensible shoes, her skirts always dropped just below the knees and if she wore pants, they were never tight. Summer or winter, she always wore a nice blouse with either a light or heavy jacket.

‘How many zones?’ john would ask every time she climbed the steps, and she’d reply with a smile her usual, ‘two please’.

‘Such a nice young lady,’ John thought waiting for her to make her way to her normal seat.

At stop number 72 Warrik Road John picked up a nice enough young man, but instinctively knew he has designs on his stop 71 passenger. Every afternoon John watched the young fella stroll down the aisle with a, ‘Hey, I’d like to get to know you look,’ on his face, and everyday John made sure the bus went over every pot hole and divot in the road, just to make the young fellas walk down the aisle attempts just that little bit harder.

‘If he wants to date my granddaughter,’ john thought, ‘then he can bloody well work for it.

Today however, John was at the end of a 60 hour week; his reflexes were a little off. Stop 72 pressed the bell indicating to John that he was getting off at stop 83. John acknowledged stop 72’s intent and ran slowly through each pot hole and divot, it was a ritual that they had all come to know. However, today is a special day as it had rained earlier and there were also some corrugations lining the edge of the road too. Crawling closer to stop 83, John noticed that his granddaughter, by proxy, smiled at the young fella. In an effort to stop 72 approaching her in her seat, John lightly touched the brakes ensuring that stop 72 had to take hold of the low hanging belts to steady himself.

Holding tight to the belts overhead, stop 72 looked to stop 71 and smiled. He began his last few steps to the rear automatic doors that had opened in line with stop 71’s seat. As stop 72 took his final step to the lip of the stairwell, John’s foot slipped on the brake bringing the bus to a sudden stop and a brief acceleration before braking again. In the ensuing melee, stop 72’s right leg slid down the short stairwell, twisting and scraping his left leg on the metal strips lining each step before stop 72 fell out the door onto the damp grass. Bruised and shaken, 72 started to pick himself up of the ground, 71 was out of her seat assisting him and John locked the bus driver’s cabin and raced as quick as he could to make sure 72 was OK.

Stop 71 and 72 had finally met, sure, 72 was feeling rather embarrassed at his tumble, but 71, who always disembarked at stop 84, offered to walk 72 home. He accepted.

John was frazzled, he thought that he was going to have a heart attack. After making sure 72 was OK, John sat down on the damp grass and began to re-evaluate his life. 71 and 72 were making sure that John was all right by this time and they sat with him for a moment while he gathered his thoughts.

‘Im just too old, too tired to play this game anymore,’ John said to them. ‘I think today will be the last time I’ll see you both.’

‘Oh,’ 71 said. ‘I’ll miss you.’

‘Yeah,’ 72 said, ‘an I’ll miss falling down the aisle every time I get on a bus.’

John laughed.

‘Keep thinking that kid,’ he said, knowing he wasn’t the only driver bored with their lot, so exacted a little joy each day from the torture of at least one rider. ‘I’ll let my replacement know.’

John laughed again and saw 72’s face droop.

‘All good fun, kid,’ he said. ‘All good fun, but let me leave you both with this small piece of advice; don’t let your life become your job.’

I need to go home, john thought as he stood with 71 and 72’s help.

‘It won’t be same without you,’ 71 said as John took his seat behind the wheel.

As he pulled away he saw 71 put her arm around 72 to walk him home.

Being that this was his last run for the day, John dropped off who was still onboard, then drove straight back to depot. Margret, his wife, was waiting for him. As they met, John told her about his day.

‘I am quitting my today, Marge,’ John said. ‘I’m too old and too tired. Could’ve killed that young fella today. Hope you understand?’

Margret looked deep into Johns grey eyes and saw he meant it. She put her arms around him and pulled him to her in a hug.

‘Then I hope you understand I’ve just become the union delegate for the depot. I’ve been working with the union all day on ways to make driving safer for them and their passengers.’

‘Couldn’t be more pleased,’ he said. ‘Maybe I can help you with insider knowledge?’

Marge smiled a pulled John in for another hug.

‘Look at us, 50 years, and I love you just as much today as I did when I first saw you walk though those doors… those ones over there,’ he said and smiled, tightening the embrace. ‘Let’s go home, Marge, let’s go home… I need to sleep for a week or two now.’

They walked hand in hand to the car and once they were seated, she looked to John.

‘Maybe now, I can just be your wife and friend. Not just another passenger on your Bus’.

‘It’s all right by me,’ he said, ‘all right by me.’

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