More and more he finds himself turning to Elvis as a moral compass when he doesn’t know what to do, of course, you have to be careful about which Elvis, not the bloated Elvis, hepped on goof balls and deep fried foods, lost in the jungle room surrounded by yes men and half clad teenage girls, but the young Elvis, the boy who sang songs for his mother and called all men sir, even when he knew that he was the next big thing, in the days before any next big things.
That’s the Elvis he thinks about, tries to channel, he’s got the shy duck of the head, the eyes looking upward, the half smile off to a tee, somewhere between Princess Di and the King himself, but it’s good enough, gets him through the day or more accurately the night.
Afterwards, when the union and human resources, a woman who patted his arm and changed her nail color to match her outfits, said he didn’t have to go back to driving, said he could have an office job, take long term sick leave, he paused and Elvis spoke through him, the Elvis from Sun Studios, hands at his side, deferential and he said that he just wanted to get back to work, the ma’am slipped out, but he didn’t think that anyone in that small windowless room had noticed.
So, back to the night shift, back to the night buses, back, because it was May to those morning walks home, sun shining, streets quiet, the off time somewhere between the early hours and the work day, back to the mug of tea and the fried eggs, fried bread breakfast.
Fat Elvis, deep fried chicken, jelly donut Elvis.
He sleeps in the bedroom he has occupied all his life, feet can touch the wall at the end of his bed if he stretches just an inch or two, makes him feel like a giant, squashed into furniture just that little too small.
When his mum died, he planned to move into her bedroom, is still planning to, has got as far as bagging up her clothes, stripping the bed, picking up an Ikea catologue, circling potential new bed-side tables, but knows he is not yet ready.
Elvis’ mom, watching her son on stage, hearing the screams of girls as he thrusts and plunges, face shiny back then with the sheer joy of performance.
After breakfast, the best cigarette of the day, smoked, these days, in the kitchen, knot hovering on the fire escape, plate scraped, surfaces wiped, dutiful son Elvis, homeboy Elvis and then bed, sleep.
When he first went back, the other drivers were cautious, circled him carefully, looking out for signs of slippage, but time passed and other stuff happened, Salim helped a woman give birth to twins on the Crouch End bus, someone left a brief case with 3 grand in it on the Muswell Hill Circular and he was old news.
Elvis in Vegas, forgetting the words, stopping mid song to stare at the audience who have come to see someone who used to be big.
He misses the old Routemasters, the days when the driver lived in a cab, kept separate from the passengers and the buses that actually needed driving, huge heavy steering wheels, double declutching to change gear, the smell of diesel.
Now, he is there with the fares, takes the fares, polices the fares and the bus is all power steering and reversing sensors and his job is to be the face of the company.
Elvis, his uniform specially altered, tweaked, carefully choreographed photo shoots, you’re in the army now.
The night- bus is easy, once you get past the drunks and the lost and the ever so slightly mad, flat rate fare, no change and there is room to drive, roads not deserted, never deserted, but a hint of space, a possibility of movement and sometimes, out in the suburbs, out towards the end of the line, it feels like it’s just him and the bus and the night and he wonders what would happen if he just kept driving, but that’s a James Dean thought, not the moral compass for a man on the 47 night bus.
James Dean, Jimmy Dean, flashbulbs light up the found art that is car/tree/car and your body, scarred with cigarette burns and sly slicing to your arms and wrists.
Find a happy place, take a deep breath, centre yourself, this is the 47, heading out of town, he gets a grip, stares in the mirror, checks out the passengers, checks himself, find the happy place
Elvis cradles Priscilla in his arms, his hands are huge, designed to dig and cut and work and freed from all of that when he opened his mouth and sang gospel like a black boy.
Mostly, he doesn’t think about what happened, not in detail, not for long. He knows that it is becoming a depot tale, one of the dark ones, the stories that don’t get told in the pub.
He didn’t even notice her, why would he, small, skinny, hair pulled back in a straggly pony tail, he had lots of time to look at her, afterwards of course.
She sat on the back seat, curled up into the corner, he saw it on the CCTV, afterwards and quietly, somewhere between Oxford Street and the terminus, the far suburb, the streets where foxes with unblinking yellow eyes watched the bus go by, she slashed her wrists and bled to death, unnoticed, just a huddle of black clothes, a sleeper who has missed their stop.
He doesn’t think about her very often, drive the bus, move the people, watch the foxes, ask what would Elvis do?
Elvis, on that last night, hot southern night and the pills don’t work and the girls don’t work and the food won’t fill the hunger and you walk from room to room trying not to catch sight of yourself in mirrors and you wait for day to come.