Puzzles And Games

Entry by: Guesswho

24th March 2023
Choking on a Chevalier Sandwich

The Maurice Chevalier playful song lyric, "I’m glad I’m not young anymore" comes back to me. Ah, if only it was true. Why it should come to mind now, after all these years, I have no idea. Anyway, I think back to a time when youth and inexperience conspired against me…..

"Ah, yes, I remember ‘eet’ well." It’s not something I really want to remember but if my unfortunate experience goes some way to helping anyone else, then I might as well express it here and now, in the form of a confessional, if you like….

Suddenly I am student again, on my way to the bus stop, in the pouring rain. I turn the corner and face a dilemma. I am puzzled, faced with an awkward choice…..

Carry on walking and hope the bus will wait. The driver can see me coming although, to me, his face is little more than a pink blob behind a smeared windscreen. But I know his little game. We’ve played it before. He’s bored and probably jealous of those who travel with the freedom to go where the mood takes them. At least, that’s what he thinks.

I think he has too much time to dwell on his miserable life, trapped in a goldfish bowl and wedded to a steering wheel, always on the move but going round in endless circles, day after day; the mindless drudgery of the number 38 bus.

He can think what he likes, but I need to take the bus as a part of my regular routine, five days a week. But in his mind, I am a free spirit, a dilettante, one of those long haired students with nothing better to do than smoke pot and enjoy another endless ‘summer of love’. (I wish – but this bus goes to Macclesfield not San Francisco!)

He, on the other hand, has nothing better to do than humiliate his paying customers. I know this to be true. I’ve met him before. One might almost say that he is imbued with evil intent. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but he is mischievous to say the least.

This is probably how it will pan out….

I’ll approach the bus. He knows my intent. He’ll wait, looking like butter wouldn’t melt, then pull away just before I get there, leaving me stranded on the wet pavement in a plume of blue exhaust, a row of smirking faces looking at me from the windows as the bus gathers speed, leaving me stranded.

But, if I run? Oh, yes, if I run! That could be even worse and extend the agony. I’ll clamber aboard like some desperado with St Vitus dance, fumbling for my change, dropping half of it on the floor, take my ticket and then stumble down the aisle looking for a seat and collapse in an embarrassed heap. The driver will then deliberately take his time, filling out his pools coupon or writing his memoirs or whatever else he can think of to cause a delay and have us all sitting there indefinitely and I’ll feel a fool, perched like ‘piffy on a rock bun’, hot and breathless.

And he will have won…. Again!

Yes, the game, if it was boxed and marketed, would be known as ‘Humiliation’. It would be in bold letters and probably have my photograph on the lid and I don’t think I would be smiling.

I’ve got to concentrate, puzzle this out. Play him at his own game. Try a new strategy. Something he won’t expect. Something new.

So, it’s ‘GAME ON’…..

I put on my game face and lengthen my stride and lower my centre of gravity. My gait might look a little unusual but my speed increases. I hope I don’t look like a geek or someone who needs the toilet. But it’s a risk worth taking.

I try not to look stupid.

I look stupid, a loser at a game I could never hope to win. He’s played it so many more times before, against so many other players. I’m just an amateur, an ingénue, innocently drawn in to his dark world of deception and practical jokery. He’s a professional, been at it for years. It’s probably an integral part of bus driver training, lifted straight out of the manual, something to boast about over a cup of tea in the staff canteen. It’s probably in the chapter headed ‘Alleviation of Boredom’ found just after the chapter headed, ‘How to make passengers wish they had walked instead’.

I don’t stand a chance. He’s taken on all-comers and chalked up victory after bloody victory.

It’s no good. I blink first. My will crumbles and I break into a run. I try to pretend that I’m running straight past, on my way somewhere else. Then, as soon as I’m parallel with the open door, I lunge sideways, tripping up the steps, missing my footing and spilling my fare over the floor. (Deja vu!)

The driver looks at me as if I’m some kind of idiot as I scrabble around on my hands and knees trying to rescue loose change. I find most of it but the longer I look, the more self-conscious I become. An elderly lady sitting on the front seat, wearing a knitted tea-cosy for a hat, points helpfully with her umbrella to a corner and nods. I smile and salvage a penny from the grime, black dirt forcing its way under my fingernails.

“Park Green,” I stammer as I deposit eight ‘new pence’, a ring-pull and a cigarette butt on the driver's little oval dish.

He hands me a ticket along with the ring-pull and the cigarette butt and says, “Your change.”

The elderly lady smiles at me as I pass and I feel my cheeks burning.

I grope my way down the crowded bus, my ruck-sack swinging dangerously from side to side, close to unprotected faces, making passengers take avoiding action. I apologise automatically as my bag rebounds from shoulders bordering the aisle. I avoid eye contact, hoping I don’t know anybody.

I stumble into the only empty seat I can find but it’s next to a girl. I’d rather it wasn’t.

I glance across. Oh, God, it’s Louise!

"Every ‘leetle’ breeze seems to ‘whispair’ Louise." That Louise!….

The Louise I’ve been trying to impress since last September when I joined the extra-curricular art group and found the most beautiful girl in the world.

I had hopes. I had dreams. Well, not any more.