If it comes in the next ten seconds, then everything will be fine.
Lenny Highsmith waited at the railway station bus stop. He’d shown up, as he always did, at a quarter to the hour, just in time for the Number 48. Setting his Seiko Presage with the green dial to the time by the station clock, he furled and unfurled his scorched whangee umbrella ready for the count. The timetable screen was, as usual, taking its jolly time to display the information he needed. Why they couldn’t show both departures and announcements at once, Lenny didn’t know. You could fail to realise that you had missed your bus in the time it took to read about a road closure on the A-something-or-other in a fortnight’s time next Tuesday.
The umbrella in good order, the watch set, the cufflinks shot, Lenny noted that the due time given for the bus was out by at least five minutes. If it could be trusted at all. Which didn’t altogether matter when he had his own system.
If it comes in the next ten seconds, then it’ll all end precisely as I fear it will.
Lenny knew how it might seem to the people around him, if they caught him at it. If his lips moved. Which, yes, they sometimes did. But he also knew that they didn’t care. Maybe they had their own countdowns on the go; their own reckonings to be made with the Universe.
10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
He’d got it off pat now. Abandoned the old “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”. A double tap of the brolly’s ferrule against the pavement between each number was more than enough to keep the count. He counted. He tapped. He didn’t, in any way, deliberately slow down just in case the bus wanted to appear at the end of the road and prove that fate had made its decision.
Lenny lingered on “one”. Which wasn’t cheating himself. Rushing into another count when the bus might arrive right at that point would be cheating. But the rumble he’d thought was the bus turned out to be one of the council’s gritting lorries. He stood back from the curb as it went by, although not soon enough to avoid the grit and salt spattering onto his Loake Chester brogues. Lenny gave them a quick wipe with his paisley handkerchief.
Another countdown. Another ferrule-measured ten down to one.
If it comes in the next ten seconds, I’ll see her again one day.
It was all utterly ridiculous, of course. Risible, even. Of all the things Lenny could do after what had Happened, standing here and letting the arrival of a bus dictate how things would unfold in the future he had never wanted to have was surely one of the least sound ways of achieving whatever he might want to achieve.
If it comes in the next ten seconds, I’ve already seen the last of her.
10 – was that a good thing? – 9 – was that what he really wanted? – 8 – what would he say anyway if he did see her again? – 7 – hadn’t she told him she used to get the Number 48 to work herself? – 6 – perhaps, one day, she’d want to again, just for old time’s sake?
5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.
The umbrella tap-tapped its way to the end of the count. The chap next to Lenny in the not-quite-a-queue, toothless and with a distinctly ripe niff, gave him a sort of smile. A moment passed between them. A moment that wanted it to be known that this was a private thing, thank you very much, and, no, others were not invited.
“You getting on, son?” asked toothless.
Lenny started. There was a double decker right in front of him with its door open. The grizzled driver looked out at him with a wariness that suggested he wasn’t keen on the idea of explaining the concept of bus stops or, indeed, public transport to the overdressed gent with the brolly.
Toothless held out an arm. He was letting him go first, so Lenny made a point of consulting the front of the bus, even though he knew what it would say. Even though he knew the 48 went from the stop on the other side of the road.
“No. No. I’m waiting for the next one,” he said.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!