5th April

The Man Upstairs

The bus is just over the bridge when a procession of folk comes down from the top deck – not to get off, but to find themselves other seats.

‘There’s a fellow up there being sick,’ a woman tells the driver. He nods. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to know. It’s his bus but it’s not his bus.

She comes to the back and says it again, as if we can’t hear the retching and the rattle of vomit on the floor above our heads. ‘Oh, he’s terribly sick,’ she adds, after another volley.

‘Is it drink?’ an old man asks.

‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘But he’s not well.’

Trainers appear on the stairs. Is this him? No. It’s a young fellow in a tracksuit, alert, buzzing, fresh-faced, who launches himself from the bus at the next stop. Surely our man would be sweaty and pale, shivering and feverish, not flying off like a gymnast? And nobody said, ‘Better now, son?’ Nobody said, ‘That was him.’

The bingo halls are coming up. The women rise like a wave and head for the exit.

You’ll be sick if you don’t win tonight,’ the old man says, cackling.

The woman laughs back, shaking her head. ‘I’d rather go home penniless than be the one that has to clean this bus tonight.’

So now the lower deck is half empty, or perhaps that should be half full. Upstairs everything has gone very quiet. All that was in him must have come out. What next? Maybe he’s embarrassed, afraid, reluctant to show his face. I’m trying to picture the scene up there. Has he moved seats? Is anybody else still with him? Is he conscious? Dead?

The bus’s tyres rumble over the tarmac, the wipers thud back and forth across the glass. There are just a handful of us now, all with our own thoughts, or not with them. And upstairs, some man – dead, or not dead. Somebody should go and check. I should go. But I don’t move. I sit exactly where I am, anticipating two things – my stop, and his spattered shoes staggering down the stairs – and I am not sure which I want to see first.

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harp: Esther Swift
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