A Heavenly Way to Die
On a warm summer night my lover, Gabriel and I walked towards the bus stop. I moved with ease, lost in the pleasantries of an evening, where I had felt whole and at one with a consciousness that frequently threatened to cut me into small pieces, like a sharp pair of scissors. Then, I remembered that it was 11.10 and the journey home would take another hour.
A long, lingering hour spent alone with my desultory mind. Dread entered my head and landed in my stomach. In the wake of a micro-second, I transformed from happy-go-lucky lover into a fucked-up, should be imprisoned in a lock-up hater of all humankind. I screamed but my mouth emitted only smoke from the cigarette that perched between my lips.
It had been a joyful evening, beer and lingering kisses characterised it. But now it was time to catch the bus home. I lit another cigarette and tried to calm my racing thoughts.
The city hummed with the stench of late-night drinkers and a stinking wreck of a man, carrying a walking stick.
“Is the bus due, love?” he shouted.
Gabriel towered above me. His six-foot, six-inch frame announced a sense of charisma that ate up the surroundings, like a gourmet meal. I wanted to eat him, too, but anxiety consumed me.
My thoughts rushed through my mind and claimed my reason. The screaming would not abate. No matter how hard I challenged my speedy inner voice, I could not quieten her. I was weak in the presence of noise.
The bus arrived. I kissed Gabriel and ran towards it. I needed to hold it together; keep a lid on my psychic pot. Boiling over, I was rotten from the inside out.
The thoughts did not stop and all the time my inner voice chanted “If a double-decker bus should claim the both of us. To die by your side…”
Save me, God, in heaven, let me board your beautiful bus. Thank you, God, in heaven for giving me the power to board your beautiful bus. Now, take me home.
I presented my bus pass and peered at the driver. He looked back at me. I flinched; it was the driver who hated me. Before that night, he had driven me home, and although we had never exchanged words, we loathed one another. I began to sweat. I knew that I was about to battle not only for my subjectivity but my life.
Why did he hate me? I was a reasonably presentable middle-aged woman, wearing my silly poet’s hat and a smile for most occasions. Tonight, was not one of those. My face felt as scrunched as chewed toffee, anxiety wearing down my lips, like a monstrous Freddie Mercury moustache. Maybe, if I smiled at him, he would not hate me as much. So, I smiled. His face remained immobile. He, now, hated me even more.
I fell into a seat near the front of the bus, where I could keep an eye on the driver and waved Gabriel goodbye. His theatrical wave slowly disappeared from my view and the bus headed towards Birmingham’s suburbia. Each tentative turn of the bus’s wheels brought me a heartbeat nearer to my uncertain, but hopeless fate.
It was the summer of 2018 and England’s football team had excelled in the world cup. Birmingham felt lighter and brighter; the atmosphere was tinged with froth. But I did not like football and my soul felt heavy. The bus vibrated with the sound of conversation about the beautiful game. People engaged with one another and chatted voluminously. My mouth remained as inaccessible to communication as a cat to her non-existent conscience.
My thoughts began to speak, like disengaged voices. Each one possessed an individual and unique consciousness. I did not want to listen, but the more I tried to shut them out the louder and more furious they became. My head ached as though a drill had been inserted into it. I imagined banging it into a wall and felt it crush, like a grape, squelching in the grip of a fist.
I was taken back in time to the point where a few hours ago I had stood on stage before a group of dilatants and self-styled eccentrics in an arts cafe. I read my poetry; my words emanating from a mind so bruised that it might have been an apple and a mouth whose only comfort had been the sweet kisses of an Irish six-foot, six-inch giant, who called himself my boyfriend. At over 50 years of age, he was no boy, but a man for every season I chose to claim him.
I was a reasonably effective poet, but a poor performer. I stumbled over the text, like an awkward teenager before a potential fuck. I ought to be punished for being crap and alive. Why was I alive? I had killed myself in my mind multitudinous times, but in the realm, we call consensual reality, I walked as though I possessed free will and peace of mind. Where was my mind?
“Did you watch the game, last night, love?” It was the smelly man talking to me. He dared to interrupt the flow of my thoughts and bring me back to the bus. The passengers continued to chat around me, a smile following each enunciation and my adversary, the driver, stared into the night, undoubtedly, planning my downfall with every turn of the steering wheel.
“No, I missed it,” I replied, even managing to smile. I was polite to the point of duplicity. My smiles belied sneers.
“Do you think we’ll go all the way?” The “we” was the England football team. At that moment I did care about “we’s” only me’s. I was no longer myself and became, rather, the other self, the self of the mind. The one I concealed from all other human hearts and eyes. Then, guilt arrived.
He was only being friendly, but he smelled as though he had bathed in fish guts and caramelised dog shit. He was harmless as he was, charmless and did not deserve to be denied, a mere scrap on humanity’s plate of redundant human leftovers. I looked down my nose and scoffed a smile of derision in his affable face. I deserved to die.
“How’s your leg?” I asked stink bomb, pretended to listen to his answer and felt better.
The driver peered at me. I saw his eyes in the mirror above his seat and my brief respite ceased.
Travelling home on the penultimate bus of the day, the night was as dark and warm as I. Most people were tucked up in the haven of their beds, but I was as upright and awake as someone shitfaced on coke and black bombers. The sleeping world looked eerier and its reflection denser and darker than the waking world.
I longed to be in the safety of my home, but the bus moved further into the night, seemingly enveloped in blue painted armour, protecting my soul. The more I reached for the light, the further it drifted and so did I. I looked at my watch and saw that it would be at least another forty minutes before I reached my destination.
I sighed with distinction and tried to think about rainbows, kittens and puppy dog’s mittens, but my thoughts told me that I was about to freak, as never before. You will lose control of your mind, scream, collapse and die. You will rise from your seat with demonic zeal and curse the Gods for giving you a head as full of noise as a nightclub; thoughts clinking like glasses, raised above a dance floor, shattering like glasses on a dance floor. You throw yourself on glasses on a dance floor and curse the Gods for letting you bleed.
The manager approaches you. He is a bastard and even bigger than Gabriel, who picks you off the dance floor, like a flower. You are a rose. Your thorns bite into his hands, but still, he clings to you. Do not leave me here alone, Gabriel, I am as frail as a flower. My nails are thorns that long to tear your skin. I want to get under your skin; to become you. Please let me in.
Gabriel screams in pain. You have removed his skin, layer by layer until he is but bone and blood. The dance floor is stained with blood, yours and his. It mingles in coital terror, drowning broken glasses in an ocean of pain. You scream. The manager grabs you by the scruff of your neck, like a helpless kitten and throws you out of the club. You have crossed the line of demarcation and lie in the shadowy realm of exclusion, where insanity is but a trip away. You trip.
I felt tired and began to yawn exaggeratedly the way the terminally bored yawn. But I was not exaggerating, I was terminal. My head thumped and thudded as though a pugilist were beating himself within it, bouncing off the sides, like a boxing ring and striking his reduced form with blows so low that only Tyson at the height of his powers would dare to bestow. I could smell my armpits. My t-shirt clung to my curves, like a lascivious lover.
The bus approached Harborne. My journey was half over. I had nearly done it, survived the impossible, my anxiety state. I would soon be home with my cup of cocoa and Sky News. Then, my eyes momentarily met the driver’s, again catapulted me back into the abyss.
“Who’s on your t-shirt, love?” Smelly was talking to me, again.
“Morrissey,” I replied sheepishly.
“Morrissey!” Someone had joined the conversation, a man sitting opposite me. He looked shifty; his eyes were as deep as a pint of Guinness and his skin, liver yellow. Then, I remembered that I, too, had been drinking alcohol, forfeiting my moral right to judge. Could he smell it on my breath?
He might be a pervert. Perhaps, he could smell alcohol on my breath and thought he could overpower me. That evening I had desired to escape the torments of my mind and sink my being into three too many bottles of lager. Maybe I was about to pay the price for it. A stranger I had met on a bus would assault me as I walked from the bus stop to my house. I surveyed his appearance thoroughly but discreetly, digesting the details of his face and clothing so that I could describe him to the police the following day when I would report my assault.
“He was a good singer,” the man continued, “Does the body rule the mind, or the mind rule the body, I dunno?”
He likes Morrissey, he must be alright. I smiled at him. He smiled back. I now felt less alone. But he alighted from the bus at the next stop, nodding goodbye to me in acknowledgement of our shared reality, the shared reality of Manchester’s favourite son and right-wing wanker.
But, in the merest blink of an eye, I had re-entered the realm of the other me, the me that was not my real self, but a self of fear, anxiety and paranoia. I had become my alternate reality and it felt like the sound of fingernails sliding down a chalkboard, a dentist’s drill or someone slurping a bowl of soup. Stop the bus, I want to get off. But I could not, I was twenty minutes from home, it was dark outside and unsafe for someone like me whose petals were larger than her thorns.
Why did the driver hate me? Whenever I boarded his bus, he wore an expression that channelled a scowl and a snarl. I could almost hear him snarling at me beneath his breath. He should concentrate on driving the bus and not on me. If he did not pay more attention to his driving, we would surely crash. I imagined dead bodies strewn across the bus, blood seeping everywhere. I could hear the passengers screaming, like animals in a slaughterhouse. Smelly became a pig, a swine of Birmingham’s gutters, screeching until his final breath. I did not scream; my mouth was gagged with the cutting ropes of my polarised ego.
In a flash everything became clear. A single medicinal thought shot through my ontological being, like the serum from an injection, reality’s truth serum. It stimulated more thoughts and imagery. I finally understood why he hated me. I was a woman in sensible shoes. He hated women and sensible shoes were a sign. My Dr Marten boots symbolised an upside-down world, where women kissed women and wore boxer shorts. They were a sign that men were redundant; the only desirable cocks were poultry.
A film unwound before my inner eyes. The driver arrived home from an evening shift. His wife sat in the kitchen. She looked pensive. Her eyes were lowered. He asked her if she was okay. She had not kissed him. Had something happened? Was it his Dad? Had one of the kids been in trouble at school?
She did not answer. Now, he was doubly afraid.
“What’s the matter, love? Tell me.”
She began to cry, her face turning purple. When she cried, she looked so ugly that he wanted to suffocate her until she could no longer breathe. He felt sick; not only with fear but, because her appearance offended him, like the gay comedian who was always on TV, joking about back passages and hands, on his entrance. He wanted to shout at her to stop it, but, rather, asked her, again, if she was okay.
The floodgates opened and a tidal wave of confessions immersed the driver. His wife had been seeing someone else, someone who treated her with respect, who did not shout at, or slap her when they were drunk; someone who was a she.
I gasped. The truth hurts, but I finally understood. I understood the loathing in the driver’s eyes and the odium he felt towards me and all other women in sensible shoes. I understood the driver but supported his wife. For, I liked comfortable shoes. Anyway, I had a boyfriend and my sensible shoes were purely aesthetic.
The truth catalysed my resignation. Though she and I wore different skin. I was the driver’s wife, I symbolised everything that was wrong with modern life…bloody women.
The bus began to empty. My stop was almost last, by which time I would be the only person remaining on it. I imagined the passengers alighting from the bus, one by one, each heading for the safety of home after an evening of fun. Although I felt like the centre of the universe, everyone’s eyes turned towards me with scrutiny and dislike, I was as invisible to them as the H. G. Wells eponymous anti-hero.
The driver gripped the steering wheel as though it were his wife’s neck, naked and vulnerable, begging to be crushed. His weight bore down on the wheel. His fingers were as thick and tough as overcooked sausages. He wrapped them around the wheel, shedding sweat, like fat in a frying pan. His face reddened with anger, like an exploding raspberry, leaking juice upon everything that neared it. His skin was now clothed in his manly substances.
He stopped the bus and I nearly flew off my seat. I sat back and tightened every muscle in my body. The driver rushed towards me, like an injured rhino, roaring with an agony so intense that it could only have emanated from the toil of sexual politics. He stood before me, monstrous in his capacity as a wild beast; his eyes protruded, like a madman’s.
He launched at me. His body seemed larger than when he was seated. His weight overwhelmed my pulpy form and threatened to unfurl the life out of me. I tried to scream, but it was too late. His hands were around my throat, his thumbs pressed deeply into my oesophagus and fingers plunged into my skin. I could not breathe and tried to fight him off. My hands beat against his back and my legs kicked out in desperation. I fought to save myself, but he was too powerful. He crushed me, like an insect. I was as weak and as valueless as an insect. I did not deserve to live, so he killed me.
I opened my eyes and sighed from the pit of my stomach. There were only two other people left on the bus. The end was near, and I must prepare for my inevitable fate.
“Bye, love.” The smelly man left the bus; he raised his hand in a farewell wave.
I bade him goodbye and felt proud that my voice had not demonstrated the fear that defined my mind as floridly as my daydreams. Now, there was only one other passenger on the bus. Bring it on.
I glanced at the other passenger she, also, was a woman. She looked relaxed and comfortable in her orange painted skin. The driver did not worry about her, or her, him. Nevertheless, I did not envy her. For, I possessed the glory of an omniscient mind that perceived beyond the concrete into the truth. In contrast, she was merely part of the herd, a cow that mooed solely when she accidentally smudged her make-up, or developed a spot on her, not, pretty face.
I imagined her sauntering off the bus, her hips swaying in unison with breasts, which hung bovine-like between her knees. “Thank you, driver,” she swooned. He smiled at her and I wanted to spew.
Two stops left and now, she did alight from the bus. Stumbling up the aisle, she disappeared into the night without a word. The driver did not look her way. Now, I was alone with him.
My imagination yielded me into another universe. This one was even darker and more malevolent than the previous. I rose from my seat and embarked down the aisle of the bus. My heart beat audibly between my ears and sweat dripped down my torso, burning my flesh, like acid. When the bus reached my stop, it did not stop. Anxious, I turned to the driver and said, in the feeblest tones, “Sorry, I wanted to get off there.”
The driver grinned; it was not the grin of comradeship, but that of Mephistopheles, a Jack Nicholson-like: twisting, demonic grin, striking my soul with unspeakable fear. He thrust open the door of his driver’s cabin and grabbed me with the full force of his being. His hands reached for my head and he clasped my hair in his right hand, dragging my head behind me. I screamed so loudly that I felt I would erupt and tumble to the ground, as fragile as a flower. With a gargantuan thud, my body struck the floor.
The driver pulled me along the floor by my hair as though I were feather-light, not a full-bodied woman of hearty mind and soul. Blood oozed from me, like tomato ketchup on a hamburger. The pain was the most excruciating I had ever experienced. I sobbed in infernal agony and terror. Then, he jumped on top of me and began to eat my face. He gorged on me until all that remained was the blood-soaked essence of my somatic identity. My screams had been stifled and my life deleted like a meaningless entity. My anxiety was now confined to the annals of the past alongside the imprint of my life.
Finally, the bus reached my stop. I hurried down the aisle. The driver halted the bus and said, “Night, bab.” I looked at him and saw that he was smiling. His smile illuminated his face, like a beam of friendly light. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pistol. Aiming it at his head, I fired the pistol and his brain splattered all over the side window. His body folded into his seat. I stepped off the bus and walked home.