All Change Please
'Are you sure?' she asked me.
I nodded. I wasn't sure. But I had run out of options. My life was a mess; my head was a mess and my relationships were a mess. I was 25 years old, and couldn't see a future. Selena had explained the risks; her therapy was extreme and dangerous. When I'd asked what dangerous meant she'd told me I might not come back.
I nodded again and picked up the pen on the desk between us. I signed the form, just next to the tiny cross. Truly, I didn't care.
She picked the form up and filed it away in a drawer, then from a box on her desk took out a jar of pills. She shook one out and passed it across to me. I looked at it while she got up and fetched me a glass of water.
Was I sure?
I put the pill in my mouth, accepted the glass of water, and swallowed.
At first: nothing. Selena George watched me from her side of the desk. Nothing's happening, I wanted to tell her, but my mouth wasn't working. Instead, I yawned, hugely, and it felt like my mouth was going to take over my face. My stomach dipped and I tried to close my mouth but my head fell back and then I was falling, my chair tipped backwards and the last thing I saw was the ceiling above me, rushing further and further away.
I tried to scream.
'All change, please,' said the conductor.
I was on a bus. I gripped the bar on top the seat in front of me. It was the kind of seat I'd sat on on the school bus, back in the 1970s. Back when it all began to go wrong. I looked around, certain I'd see old faces such as Spud, or Nik, or Di, but the bus was full of strangers. I was glad; I'd never wanted to see Spud again.
The conductor shouted again, and I looked around. Nobody was moving. What was I supposed to do?
People around me were looking straight ahead. They all looked wrong; stiff and unreal, like waxwork people.
The conductor shrugged and leaned down to speak to where the driver must be sitting. I couldn't hear what he said but then he looked back down the bus and said, 'Next stop, then. Change there. This one was too soon.'
With a jolt and a weird vibration below my feet we began moving. The waxwork-like people began to move, to look around them. Some of them cried. I looked from face to face, not recognising anyone until I reached the last person on the bus, a small figure sat in a corner, right at the back.
I almost screamed, but then she saw me looking and smiled, a soft, beautiful smile with no fear, no sorrow, no hint at all that she knew she was
I worked it out, with a sickening, lurching, terrible feeling deep inside me. Selena George... it had gone wrong.
Miriam, the teenager who'd been knocked down and killed the previous week, was sitting smiling at me from the back seat of a bus that I was sitting on.
I began to cry. Ashamed of myself, tired and shaking, I slid down in my seat and cried for my lost, messed up life. I was dead.
Now if you're thinking, what a load of crap, you can't write this if you're dead, keep reading. It gets more bizarre before it gets better. This is true, completely, utterly, true. All of it. So stop making that face, and read on.
When I'd finished feeling sorry for myself I began to wonder if this was a mistake. I tried to stand up but of course - I should have known - I couldn't. The conductor saw me and told me to hang on, because it was going to get rough in here, and I'd better hang on to myself, because the next stop was the last one on this route and ...
But I didn't hear what else he said because like a roller coaster, the bus dipped and rose, and the world outside began to flash by. I clung to the bar in front of me and looked around, my eyes desperate as I looked from window to window, and didn't recognise anything.
The conductor pointed to me and then indicated my own window, so I looked. I was, indeed, on my old bus route, on my old bus and it was the day that I, aged 13, lost my virginity. I saw myself, pinned under Spud, saw myself pretending to enjoy it, saw myself trying to find the right word, the word which was NO, but I thought I owed him this because he'd told me it was my fault he was like this, 'driving him wild' and so I just thought, get it over with, then.
I saw myself limping home from the bushes behind the bus stop. I knew what came next; I didn't need to see it. I'd gone home, sore and bleeding, and been in trouble for being late and been hit by my father and been sent to my room, where I sat, afraid to undress.
I looked at myself, lost and alone and wanted to put my arms around myself. I knew why I was seeing this. It was the day life changed. Stuff had happened to me, yes, with a violent father and an alcoholic mum who was mostly absent, but I wasn't that different to anyone else in my group. That was why we hung out together. But it was this day, when I gave my childhood to a boy I'd hate for the rest of my life, that I was watching.
The window flickered then like a TV channel being changed over and over. There were boys, boys and men and money and more men. Once my virginity had gone, I reasoned, I may as well use what was left. I gained a reputation, though I insisted the money was left as a gift and I altered my areas. But throughout my teens and up to my early twenties, I made a small fortune. I enjoyed it, even then. In my mind was paying back all the Spuds in the world, by using them.
I watched the come and go in my window. What I saw next made me feel sick. A punter who was using, who told me how wonderful it was and his squat and the other people in the squat and me who'd sworn she'd never do anything except smoke dope, suddenly taking anything and everything. My parents gave up; by then they'd divorced anyway and moved on. I wasn't in their focus anymore.
I didn't want to see the next part. But as if my head was pinned there, my eyes held to the window, I saw everything. Every last, sorry, sordid detail of my crappy life. I saw how I'd squandered it. I saw the hurt I'd inflicted. I saw the men who loved me and wanted to 'save' me pushed away. I saw my beauty - which I'd not even known I had - be replaced by a hollow grey faced wretch who I knew; and hated.
You don't need to know everything I saw. All of your darkest, deepest shames, imagine sharing them... I'm not going to. But it was everything, laid bare, and it just didn't stop. One wrong turn had led me to take more and more and more. There'd been nobody to tell me it wasn't my fault, that every first time, but plenty of people to blame me for everything I wrecked thereafter.
I kept trying to close my eyes.
It went on and on, until I felt empty inside. Wrung out. Finished.
I knew what was going on, now. I saw everything I'd done wrong, and I felt every ounce of regret that I'd not had time to put it right; forgive myself and ask for forgiveness form everyone I'd hurt. All the things I'd stolen, all the relationships I'd wrecked. Oh yes; it wasn't just possessions I stole...
'All change, please,' came the shout. And again, louder, 'All change, please. This time there can be no exceptions.'
It felt as if a weight lifted from my lap and I found I could stand. Everyone else stood, too. We were going to get off the bus. Suddenly, I was afraid again. The fear had been replaced by sorrow at wasting my life but it was back, now. I'd been brought up going to church as a small child. Hell existed for people like me. The thoughts of 'what's next?' kept coming, hammering into me.
I watched as one by one, people stepped off the bus. Outside the windows it was white, as if we'd stopped inside a fog. The girl, Miriam, whose face I'd seen on the front of the papers, turned and waved, her face serene, as she left.
Eventually, it was my turn. The conductor looked at me.
'Haven't you worked it out, yet?' he said.
'This is... the way to hell - or heaven?'
He shook his head, and laughed at me. 'You're going back,' he said. 'You get another turn.'
'Another chance. All change! This bus is for those who need another go. Come on, I'm late for the next stop...' he smiled at me expectantly.
I shook my head. 'I don't deserve another go,' I said. 'I messed this one up.'
'Not up to me,' said the conductor, from behind thick glasses. Why hadn't I noticed his glasses before? 'It's up to yourself. Your own heart.'
'But,' I began, and the bus tipped and I fell backwards and banged my head and opened my eyes.
Selena George, the therapist whose number I'd found in a leaflet, saying, 'Deep Past Life Therapy - don't give up, I can help' was smiling at me.
'Tell me everything,' she said, 'whilst I make a hot drink.'
I stared at her. I was here. I'd never left, but...
'I was in a bus,' I said. 'I was in a bus, watching this life that was mine, except I was someone else. I was a girl, a woman in her late twenties who'd made a real mess of her life, and - oh my god I died of an overdose!'
Selena placed a steaming mug in front of me. 'Drink this, when you're ready.'
But I couldn't stop talking. 'It all makes sense,' I said. 'I lived this terribly sad, messed up life. Sold my body - I was a prostitute - took drugs, died before I'd made it up to anyone. That's why... why I always feel so responsible! Why I can't form a relationship with anyone. Why I hate men... why I hate myself... Because all men did was take from her. I want to know her name!'
But Selena George was shaking her head. 'It's never worked like that,' she said. 'Sounds as if yours was more vivid than most. But you can't go back. All you can do is watch, and feel, and understand what you brought back here with you. And then, with my help, we'll put it to bed. We'll move on, and you can learn to live properly, knowing what you know. Some people see five lifetimes; some more. Some people only see their own. Some... some don't make it back.'
I thought of the teenager I'd known, in that other life. Did she make it back?
Selena smiled. 'Let's make your next appointment. It's probably best if you don't talk too much about this. Most people won't believe you. But, Jamie, welcome back. Welcome to the rest of your life.'
We didn't talk about the man we saw
lying in the street.
Asleep on a strip of cardboard in the doorway of a betting shop.
Young, bearded, scrunched up.
With a soggy sign that read “All change please. All yer change”
We didn't mention him.
We were coming back from church, eager to get home.
You had friends for supper.
I was cold.
But life was good,
God was good.
So we didn't talk about him.
He just lay there in our minds
A stray amidst the trappings of a Sunday night
Except we didn't mention him.
But still he lay there
In the chill of thoughts that couldn't quite forget, couldn't quite pray.
You cooked for your friends
Wishing I'd done something, said something
But wishing more,
we'd gone the other way
And missed him.
is coming and I’m glad
because the too blue upholstery
is hurting my eyes plus
my fellow commuters seem to
have turned into zombies,
leaning in to my space,
eating my sanity, my brain.
I had a home behind me
this morning but the quality
of sound when the door closed
means I won’t return.
All change please.
Nothing wrong with him
except that image in my head
of a pound-store plaster
against a raw wound.
I’m sorry if I stained him
with my self-deception
- that wasn't fair or meant.
Up, into the light at last
somewhere I’ve seldom been
into a sheer cliff of noise,
people, moving people
hurtling away like time,
broken into moments
rushing back again.