One day one a bus

“Does this go to Glasgow?” I asked. “Near a station?”

I had stressed the second part like a typical briton on a foreign holiday, trying to make a local understand them by talking louder. It wasn’t really necessary in the event, as the driver had replied in such a thick Glasweigan accent that Rab C Nesbit himself would have struggled to pick it up.

“Aye – goestae Central – Glasgae Central!” He spat, stressing the last part in case I was a foreigner.

“Thanks – I’ll just have a single then.”

“Tae whair?”

I blinked once to see if he was taking the smeg, but he wasn’t so I told him “Glasgae Centrul” in the best scottish accent I could muster. It came out like a bad impression of the driver.

Why is that? I wish I could understand why my scottish accent is crap whenever I’m trying to put on a scottish accent. I know I spent three years in Cornwall, but that was fourteen years ago now and I’m well aware that I have a scottish accent of sorts.

Anyway, I sit on this bus after quite a surreal adventure involving crossing a field in what appeared to be the middle on nowhere, but turned out to be right beside a dual carriageway. I had turned up at the bus stop, via the field, clutching a recently burned copy of Windows 98 with absolutely no idea where I was or in which part of Glasgow.

An hour and a half before I had struck up a conversation with a stranger in a computer shop in the city. I had told him that my developers copy of Windows 98 had expired and he offered to drive me to his place and give me a copy, which was nice.

I didn’t realise at the time that the 30 minute drive was a one way trip and that Mr Helpful would bid me goodbye with a brief wave in the direction of civilisation and one of those head-tilt-wink things that scottish people do when they say “Seeyie”

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I hate that.

I hate that I can remember that one letter, six digit combination almost eight years after it ceased to be relevant to me.

Let me explain. I used to be in the Ministry of Defense. Or rather, I used to be a civilian working for the ministry of defense, as an electrician. The number above was my reference number to the MoD, my code, my tag, my unique ID in the sea of bodies that work for the great lumbering organization that makes up the MoD. We needed it for everything you can think of; call in sick and you need your number, ask for leave and you need to quote it – miss a college class and your number gets taken down. Then it all goes in your file. File R269-653.

At the time it was pretty useful, I suppose – I don’t remember feeling any opinion either way on the fact I was just a number to the personnel people. There’s another funny thing – most companies have an HR department. The MoD has a personnel department – they deal in persons, or numbers, not humans which are not.

But in later years it irks me somewhat. Knowing that in some filing cabinet somewhere, under a tab marked R269-653, there’s a whole load of information documenting my every move for five years. Which days I was late, which days I was sick and the reasons for them. Every time I wanted to take holiday, except that it was called “leave” in the MoD, I filled in a form which is now in that filing cabinet, where ever it is.

I didn’t leave the MoD in the best of ways. I was stabbed in the back by men I respected – my boss and his boss, two people I really thought I could count on. When it came to the crunch they closed ranks and hung me out to dry – even lieing in front of a panel of people who were judging my future. And for what? To keep the “integrity” of the MoD? To save their own faces?

Hey, it didn’t matter anyway – I’ve moved on and made a success of my life, to a point far beyond I could ever have gone with the MoD. So I don’t really want to dwell on what went wrong, how I carried the blame, how my entire family used to talk about me at family gatherings, saying I’d screwed up my life because a job with the MoD was a job for life. I mean, why dwell on that? It would only make me bitter in a way that frightens me.

To forget completely, though, I would need to forget that number. And that’s the difficult part.

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What are the chances?

Perhaps it was the sudden jolt that followed which burned that thought into my mind so vividly. Or maybe it was the lesson learned in such a frightening way.

With all the things that rush through the head of a 12 year old that don’t stick around for longer than it takes to get to the next break in their attention span, that thought alone has survived for almost 18 years.

I can even remember how nice a day it was, how green the grass looked and I can almost smell the exhaust from the bus as I stood behind it. Even the question I asked myself seems very nonchalant – as if there were no consequences involved. I mean, next time you’re standing beside a busy road, behind a bus – ask yourself this question: “Should I run across the road?”

Whatever you do – don’t answer yourself “What are the chances?” before sprinting out from the cover of the bus. If you do find yourself asking that second question in reply, at least answer it before recklessly darting out in front of 30 mph traffic.

Yeah, I got away lightly – the car that hit me was only just taking off from about 60 yards or so up the road, so it had not yet peaked at the seemingly acceptable 5-10 mph above the speed limit. It was going fast enough to toss me into the air for an ungraceful half forward flip before crashing to the kerb on my head, though.

Then came the screams from a gaggle of new mothers who had paused as their paths crossed for a gossip. Although dazed I did feel a little foolish when I gazed around to see what they were screaming at. I guess screeching car tyre’s and a summersaulting kid make quite an impression when you’re pushing your baby around.

After discussions with the unfortunate driver regarding the front of his car and whether I’d damaged it, I convinced him I was ok and made my severely concussed way home. Fortunately this was less than a minute away or I might not have made it, as the feeling of nausea and little cartoon stars chasing around my head led me to collapse in a heap fairly soon after my arrival.

My mother…? nope, she wasn’t too impressed when I told her what had happened. She done that thing parents do when they get a shock and started going mad at me and the driver, who was clearly not at fault.

I must have been home less than fifteen minutes when he called at the door – in a state of shock himself, offering to take me to hospital. A cynic might suggest he was trying to avoid a hit and run charge, but following an afternoon spent in casualty with him I can vouch for his sincerity. He even maintained his composure when the nurse walked up, asking me “Is this your dad?”

“No.” I replied, “This is the man who ran me over!” I added, as casualty fell silent and parents of my fellow patients looked on accusingly.

In the end, I had a headache for two or three days and I’ve been very careful crossing the road ever since.

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