Carol arrived at the pedestrian crossing, pressed the button and waited for the lights to change. She looked across the road in the direction of the bus-stop, there was no one there although, about 450 feet away, an old man with a walking stick was slowly heading in the bus-stop’s direction.
Carol thought of him as old because he was noticeably older than she was – not that Carol was what society would consider young, she was mid-forties in age but would forever remain in her late-twenties, her happiest years, mentally – the man across the road could have been anywhere between an old 65-year old and a sprightly young 90-year old for all Carol knew, or cared.
She glanced at the lights directly opposite her to see if the green light was about to change to amber, an indication that the she could get prepare to cross; no change. She turned to look in the direction of where the bus was coming from and was surprised to see one was less than 300 feet away, she quickly looked back in the general direction of the bus-stop and beyond to gauge whether there was enough traffic to delay the bus. She repeated the process 3 or 4 times in as many seconds before deciding she wasn’t going to make it and her flight or fight senses heaved a sigh of relief.
As the bus passed her, Carol saw the old man try to speed up his walk to reach the bus before it pulled away from the stop. It was a London Routemaster style bus with doors at the front, in the middle and at the rear. Carol watched as the bus’s indicator lights blinked, then she saw the rear door close and the bus pull away just before the old man’s walking stick hit the rear glass panel.
At that moment the pedestrian crossing lights finally changed and as Carol crossed the road, she could hear the old man curse the driver. As she approached, she could hear him continue to mutter and grumble under his breath; she sat down on the bench alongside him, leaving some space between them. She turned to face him and smiled as they made eye-contact.
“Did you see that?” the old man asked but before Carol could respond he continued, “Did you see what that fucking bastard did? Saw me he did. Saw me, a pensioner, and waited for me to reach the doors before pulling off, that’s what he did. Fucking bastard. Am I wrong?” Carol waited to see if he was going to continue but he had stopped talking and from the expectant look he was giving her he was waiting for Carol to agree with him.
She sighed internally before giving the old man another smile, “Well, to be honest, I doubt the driver knew you were there.” she said before continuing, “I was watching from the lights and when the bus pulled up at the stop it wasn’t obvious you were hoping to catch it. You only started to speed up as the doors closed” The old man’s face told Carol that wasn’t the answer he was expecting.
“But..but he must have seen me as I was reaching the bus, he closed those back doors just as I knocked it with my stick.” the old man stammered before looking at Carol with almost pleading eyes. Keeping her smile, she replied, “Do you think he heard that? As that passenger got off the driver would have looked in his passenger side mirror, saw you weren’t hurrying, pressed the button that controls the doors, they start closing as he looks in his near side mirror to check it is safe to pull-out. So no, he never heard your stick hit the bus and nor did he ignore you. You just called him a lot of unpleasant names because you’re obviously upset or annoyed about something”
She stopped smiling but continued to look at the old man with a neutral gaze and was surprised to see that the old man’s eyes were welling up and as one fat drop of water rolled down his cheek, quickly followed by another, he looked at Carol and started to sob, “You know, I’m just so lonely. My friends are either dead or in care homes and my kids only call when they’re looking for money.”
By this point the tears were running down his face. Carol rummaged around in her bag and pulled out a packet of tissues, extracted one and handed it to him, “Here,” she said, “I think you could do with this.” Her voice was light and friendly, and the old man stopped crying, smiled at her and laughed. “Oh, my goodness! Whatever must you think of me!” he said as he dabbed at his reddened eyes. “I’m not always such a cantankerous old bastard you know.” He paused and continued, “but you’re right you know. I’m too busy being angry with myself, my kids, and the world at large that I end up taking it out my frustration on others. That poor driver, I’m just fortunate he didn’t hear what I said.” He paused before continuing, “You know it never occurred to me that he would have been looking out the other mirror, I just selfishly assumed he’d have been watching for me.” He looked straight ahead, as if transfixed on something. Carol looked in the same direction and wondered what it was he was seeing at that moment as he stared into the road.
They sat in silence for a few seconds, a few seconds that felt much longer before the old man spoke again, “Thank you for talking to an old man. You know, when I think about the number of times I’ve done what I just did; shout after drivers and then rant at whoever was unlucky enough to be at the bus-stop with me, and trust me, there have been a lot of times; I’ve just realised you have been the first person who ever replied with more than a nod and a smile. A nod and a smile to tell the crazy old man that he’s right in the hope that he will stop talking to them and they can wait for the bus in silence.” He looked down at his feet as he spoke, his voice had a note of sadness in it.
Carol looked in the opposite direction and saw that another bus was approaching, about 200 feet away. She turned back towards the old man, “There’s another bus coming,” she cheerily announced. The man looked at her and smiled, as the bus pulled up alongside them they both rose and walked towards the opening doors, Carol held back but the old man looked at her and said, “I know it’s politically incorrect and all that but I’m an old man, let me still have ‘ladies first’” he looked at her with sparkling eyes and Carol couldn’t help but smile as she stepped on to the bus.