And this is the last nightbus – On the nightbus 20.

And this is the last night bus, watch her toil up this street, gathering up the lost, the tired, the tight skinned, those whose night has gone so astray.
Hear her, ashmatic wheezing, gears churning, leaving a trail of black smoke in the city as it greys from night into day, that move from fag end, everything’s messy, everything’s fucked up into that up and at ’em, go getting, money making day in a city that never sleeps.
But less jazz hands and swing and more gritty eyes, clock watching, willing another hour of darkness, another hour of eyes closed, blessed fall into nothingness, denied again.

And this is the last night bus, crawled onto when certainty has kicked hope to the kerb, the voice that sneaks into your head and tells you that tonight will not be the night, that there is nothing left for you here, just the knowledge of a return to an empty bed in an empty house, where even the adult channels seem to mock your desperate longing for something more.

And this is the last night bus and in exactly 17 minutes she will return to the depot and like a school girl in those precious moments between 3.30 and 3.35 transforms herself, scrabbling in the carrier bag she hid from her mothers’ prying eyes and heads out into the street, all too conscious of the eyes that follow her neat, trim butt away from the school into todays’ adventure.
The night bus too will transformed, cleaned, preened, ready to move the purposeful, the day time folk from A to B to C to D and back again.

And this is the last night bus and these are the last night bus passengers;

Mr Ahmed, legs too long for his trousers, legs too long to fit neatly into the allocated space, body twisted, eyes half closed as he thinks about his sleeping sons who will avoid the call to prayer, ignore the shouts of his second wife, emerge from overcrowded bedrooms with shouts of “Laters” and vanish onto the estate, up to no good on their alleged journey to alleged college places.
He considers the double fronted terraced house, transformed into the mosque, his mosque, the floor carpeted with off-cuts from when Mr Solanki upgraded Bombay Bites.
But, his back aches, his hands, becoming arthritic, feel stiff and the sofa and the lure of half sleep, with a background soundtrack of hoovering, pots clanking, the sushed smaller children “Hush daddy’s asleep” is too strong and so, he stays on the bus, heads home.

Tilly and Lettie, all giggled out, lolling against eachother, glorious teenage flesh, but goosebumped now, legs mottled with the early morning cold.
Loved up at 2am, there is still enough E coursing through them to make the morning soft, the coming light golden.
They know the routine, fall off the bus, blow a kiss to the driver, shoes off for the last 300 yards, placing feet carefully to avoid the worst of the pavement dirt and then;
Corner shop – 20 fags, 2 bars of dairy milk, lucozade
Fall into flat, still awash with shoes, bags, scarves, little girls playing dress up
Kettle on – sniff the milk, the phrase “pass muster” floats in the air, parental language not lost after all
They lie together on the sofa, tangled together, discuss the night and finally agree
“Wicked, innit”

Dave, white shirt sticky with sweat, another night survived in the windowless room where he watches the comings and goings of the super rich and the used to be super rich and the still clinging on by their finger nails almost rich.
A standard night, open doors, close doors, collect heavy parcels, call maintenance twice, once to change a light bulb in 27 and then to check a strange noise in 39.
Buzz in 3 pizzas, 2 cycle couriers, a woman who knows what she is and knows that he knows too, the knowing hangs between them until he looks away.
Smiles politely at the couple from 67 while they continue a conversation as though he simply doesn’t exist.
Nods at the woman from 3, neither of them will ever refer to the calls he has put through to the local cop shop when the shouting stops and the crashing and banging begins.
Ushers the party boys from 42 towards the lift, even presses the button and pockets the proffered twenty quid, knowing the boy is too drunk to know what he is doing, knowing too that the money will come in useful and pushes back the sudden flame of anger, the urge to shove the note up the nose of the stupid mouth breathing moron.
When he gets home, he will leave the money on the kitchen table, with a note
“Buy something stupid” but he knows she won’t.

Genius Asante, first born son, Lion of Judah in the city of the babylon, warrior of the gates, keeper of the secrets, head thrumming as all the sounds in all the cities travel down the wires straight to his brain.
Genius Asante, fingernails rimmed with city grime, jeans designed for someone else, someone quite different, sailcloths of denim flapping around his legs, shirt, body warmer, jacket, another jacket and underneath them all, tin foil against his chest, keeping him safe, keeping them out.
Genius Asante, who once won a prize for composition in his neatly swept Botswana school room, finger the zip on his battered flight bag, wonders if it is safe to check the treasures, but shakes his head, hunches over the bag, keeps them out.
Genius Asante, who knows it’s probably time to call the Community mental health team, travelling on the last night bus into another day.

And then, there’s Eric, the last driver on the last night bus, shifts in his seat, scratches his arse and sighs, looks in the mirror, checks out the last passengers, 3 more stops, kick off the loony at the depot and end shift.
It’s been a good night, no fights, no vomiters, bevvy of cute under-dressed girls, still two of them on the bus, if he angles the mirror just so, he can see down the top of the blondes’ breasts. They have been dusted with some kind of glitter and idly,killing time on this last shift on the last night bus, he wonders where she buys it, wonders what would happen if he brought some home for Iris.
He checks his watch, exactly on time, nods, a job well done, bringing the bus home, safe and sound.
Moves his mouth, can almost taste the fag, the mug of tea, the sneaky bacon cob, needn’t tell Iris, plenty of ketchup and mustard.
He smiles, the thought gives him as much pleasure as the sneaky glimpse of the teenagers’ breasts,
must be getting old he thinks.

7 more minutes and then shift end, the last nightbus of the night, journey over.



About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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