portion of the artwork for Bobby Parker's fiction

Winston Churchill with Tatty Shoes
Bobby Parker

My lift had been cancelled at the last minute. In a rush to get to the hospital to be with my wife I grabbed my bags and ran to the bus station, flapping like a bird caught in the jaws of a crocodile.

Looking at the bus timetable in town, sweat running over my lips, it all seemed to be written in some kind of alien language.

I examined the faces squashed around me. Grim rainy faces. They wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I ran my finger along the dates and numbers of the timetable but couldn’t make sense of it.

Then there was a smiling man.

He was maybe sixty years old. Tall and thin with tufts of wild white hair like the scientist on the Weetos cereal box. “You look like you need some help,” he said.

“I need to get to Worcester hospital,” I wheezed.

“Stick with me,” he said, grinning. “I’ll get you there.” A bus pulled up and he yanked my sleeve. We made our way to the back.

“My name is Stuart,” he said.

“Bobby.” I smiled. He shook my hand, a firm shake.

Every few minutes his nose dripped onto his dirty trousers. He smelled like a bin, but his eyes were like snow globes.

“I travel all over,” he said, wiping his nose on his right sleeve. “Visiting lonely people, people who don’t have anybody to talk to.

“I’m going to see Freddy Apples today. He lost his job at the carpet factory. When his wife died he started getting forgetful. When he went to work in his pyjamas they had to let him go.

“Sometimes Fred buries his face in his big hands and moans pyjamas, pyjamas, pyjamas … but I cheer him up by doing my special dance moves. I would show you my special dance moves but we are on a bus.” I nodded, turning to watch shops and houses tumble by the trembling window before we approached the city.

I told Stuart about my pregnant wife, the complications, and the fear.

My voice quivered like a thin branch in the wind and Stuart held it with his snow globe smiling eyes and I felt better. He tapped my knee and nodded his head.

He looked at the other people on the bus in an odd way, his wiry eyebrows twitching as he frowned in concentration: a man who looked like Winston Churchill with tatty shoes, dirty big toes poking out the holes, two sick boys sharing a sausage roll, a little girl hugging a doll with no arms.

The bus pulled into Worcester station. “Come on,” said Stuart, tugging my sleeve until we were standing in the rain.

“You need to be at that stop in ten minutes.” He pointed across the street. “And you need this one here for your way back.”

People were shoving around, bumping into us. We danced between them, holding our ground.

There seemed to be bodies everywhere, all of them a dull cardboard compared to Stuart, who stood out with his mad hair and large eyes flashing left and right. Just as I was starting to panic, a jungle shrieking in my skull, the world slowed to a stop.

The people, the traffic, the rain, it all stopped as Stuart put his firm hand on my left shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

All I knew was Stuart’s hand on my shoulder.

I looked at him, into his eyes, and they grew larger, filling the sky. “Everything … is going to be … all right,” he said with a voice like a diamond.

And I knew it. I knew everything was going to be all right. The world moved and he was gone.

I was dazed. It was like I’d had three glasses of red wine in the sun. Clouds instead of problems. A choir singing my favourite songs.

People were rushing around with umbrellas and suitcases and tired faces.

When my bus pulled up I stepped on with the ticket in my hand. “Is this going straight to the hospital?” I asked. The tired driver nodded at me, “That’s the plan.” His badge said GABRIEL.

That’s when I knew it had begun.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 35 | Winter 2012