The number 58 bus is relatively quiet compared with the number 15 and don’t get me started on the 109. Even so, there he was, sitting across from me looking like an unmade bed.
I’m pretty good at picking dangerous individuals — a by-product of having lived a long time. This bloke seemed harmless to me, even with his dishevelled appearance.
I saw him lean over to the well-dressed lady sitting next to him, but I couldn’t hear what he said. She replied, and that was that. A few stops later, he got off the bus and disappeared into the wider world.
I caught the lady’s eye and asked her what had transpired between them.
“I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this, but there was something about that gentleman. What did he say to you if you don’t mind me asking?”
The well-dressed lady oozed serenity, and she took a moment to answer — as though she was deciding whether it was any of my business, which it wasn’t.
I began to feel self-conscious when she said, “He told me that he could kill everyone on the bus, including the driver and was there anything I could say that would help him.”
“And what did you say,” I said.
“I told him that it was illegal to kill people, and he seemed satisfied with my answer. He spoke like a child who was in trouble and needed advice. I guess he thought I could help,” she said.
“Wow,” I said, and the well-dressed lady settled back in her seat, lost in her own thoughts.
I got off the bus before she did and I looked back at her sitting serenely, and I wondered what she had seen in her life to be able to deal with such an urgent request without a moment’s hesitation.
About ten days later, I read a news item about a man who intervened when a woman was being attacked late one night. The news item indelicately added that the woman was elderly, in her late fifties!
The man was severely injured before he repelled the attacker.
When interviewed, the ‘elderly woman’ said that she stayed with her rescuer while they waited for an ambulance.
“He said that I saved him, so it was only fair that he return the favour. I had no idea what he was talking about. Before he lost consciousness, he mumbled something about a bus. I didn’t think too much about it because I was in shock. I owe this man my life, and I don’t even know what happened to him after they took him away,” she said. “I’m covered in his blood, and I don’t know why he defended me.”
Two days later, there was another article explaining that the unidentified ‘hero’ had died of his wounds. The police were still trying to find out who this brave man was and why he stepped in to save the woman. This time she wasn’t described as elderly because someone complained.
I rang the police and told them the story about the number fifty-eight bus, but it didn’t help much.
“If someone doesn’t come forward, he’ll be buried in an unmarked grave, which seems like a shame,” said the sergeant. I agreed.
The news media love a hero, so he was big news for a few days.
Someone started a GoFund Me campaign to cover the unknown man’s funeral expenses. They raised three times their target amount. Everyone loves a dead hero.
I went to his funeral, which was attended by about ten times the number of people who would have known him when he was alive.
The lady on the bus was not among the mourners.
In a way, it didn’t matter. She had done her job.
I said goodbye for both of us.
Three months later, there was a small article on page ten saying that a homeless man said he recognised the dead hero, but did not want to come forward because he didn’t trust the police. He said that they were in league with the aliens who were planning to take over the Transit Services.
The homeless bloke said the dead hero’s name was Frank, and I must admit that I look very carefully at every bus driver I encounter — you just never know.
The story above is pure fiction, but it is inspired by a true story a fellow WordPress person posted (Icelandpenny). She set me a gentle challenge to see what I could do with her story. I hope she approves.