While I Wait
Simon King

 

Goodness knows how long Iíve been sat waiting here. Must be half an hour. I wanted the 37A bus into town, but that was either much too early, or else it didnít come at all. Probably the latter actually, state of the buses these days. I can remember when there was one along here every few minutes. Main road into town, see. Not any more though. These days youíre lucky if you get one an hour. And the person that made up that saying about waiting for a bus and then three coming together never sat here waiting for one, I can tell you. Itís five-and-twenty past already. Damn bus was supposed to be here at ten. If I have to wait for the eleven oíclock, Iíll be right mad. Iíll miss the first dance, you see. At the hall. The tea-dance. I usually go along on a Tuesday. Have a few dances, cup of tea and a cake. Not bad for a pound. And of course, thereís always the chance of the company of Mrs. Witham if my luckís in. Jean actually, we got through the ďMrs. WithamĒ stage quite a while ago. Now that was a fun afternoon. You think Iím too old to be getting excited about seeing a lady at my age? Iíll be eighty next, but I donít feel it, I can tell you. And Mrs. Witham, Jean, sheís only seventy-three, and looks at least ten years younger. Anyway, who cares? At my time of life I havenít got time to waste on worrying about what people might be saying about me. And itís not as though weíre doing anything wrong for Heavenís sake, is it? Weíre both on our own, both lonely. We just enjoy each otherís company, thatís all.

~*~

Where is that bus? Honestly. Itís nearly quarter-to. Iíll have been sitting here for over an hour by the time I get one. I hope Mrs. Witham hasnít been waiting for me. Thereís that youth again. I saw him a bit ago. Suspicious looking character. Mind you, arenít they all these days? I donít know what to think any more, I really donít. If theyíre not stealing, theyíre mugging. If theyíre not mugging, theyíre taking drugs. I canít understand it. I mean, I know a lot of them are unemployed and donít have much money; I might be old but Iím not blind. But that doesnít mean they have to go round stealing other peopleís does it? Or smashing up property just for the fun of it? Chap next door, he had all his garden ornaments smashed up last year. I remember it clearly, because I saw them doing it. About midnight it was, end of July. It was really hot that night, and I remember hearing voices outside while I was trying to get to sleep. They were loud, raucous voices too, and they were sort ofÖangry, I suppose. Hard, nasty voices. Anyway, I got up and went out onto the landing, and peered round the curtain through the window that looks out over the front garden. And there they were, four of them. They all had cans in their hands, presumably beer cans, and as they walked down the street, two of them were balancing on the low wall that runs along the front of our gardens. Well, they go straight past the front of my garden, then they get to Brianís, thatís my neighbour. One of them spots his gnome, sitting by the side of his little fishpond. And that was that. They all started laughing and pointing, then the one whoíd been in the front along the wall jumped down, ran to the gnome and kicked it hard. It fell hard onto the concrete slab next to it and the head broke straight off. I couldnít believe it. But he wasnít finished, oh no. Next he goes over to an urn and kicks that over too, breaking the base off at the stem. Then the other one from the wall joins in and they go round, kicking and smashing everything they can, while the other two laugh and cheer every time something else gets broken. Suddenly I heard Brian shouting at them from his window; ďOi, bugger off you little hooligans. Iím calling the Police.Ē Well, they just laughed at him and made those kind of gestures that you seem to see everywhere these days. It didnít do a blind bit of good, because they only left the scene when the last item, a plaster cast toad, had been picked up and hurled at the concrete path, smashing it completely. Brianís lovely garden was a complete wreck. Actually, so was Brian the next day. I helped him tidy up all the rubbish and all the time he just kept asking, ďwhy? Why did they have to do that? I mean, what good did it do? What was the point?Ē I kept telling him there was no point, there didnít have to be. In fact, that was the point. They did it because they could, and thatís all there was to it. Heís only just managed to get his garden looking something like again, but he never replaced the gnome; Margaret, his wife, had bought him that gnome the year before she died from a brain tumour. She got it out of a mail-order catalogue. Brian said it just wouldnít be right to buy another one, because the one she bought him had been irreplaceable. It was sad.

~*~

Iím watching that youth. Thatís twice heís walked to the end of the road and back. Like heís waiting for something to happen, or waiting for someone, probably more like it. Iím trying to get a good mental picture of him, in case he does something and I have to be a witness for the Police. Blond hair, tall, gangly-looking. Scruffy jacket and dirty jeans, and big black boots, could be army boots I suppose. Not like the boots we wore in the army though. Ha, a far cry from them they are. Damn things felt as though you were walking with razor blades down your socks half the time. And running; we had to do everything in those bloody boots. I can remember Taffy Thomas moaning about his ďpoor feet, see?Ē He was funny, old Taffy. Welsh, naturally. Came from one of those places that starts with that strange noise in the back of your throat. LlanÖsomething or other. I canít remember it now. But he was really Welsh, if you know what I mean. We were all ďboyoĒ to him, and everything ended in ďsee?Ē Nice chap though, really nice. Heíd do anything for you. Relieved me of guard duty many a time, Taffy did. In return for smokes of course; well, that was the deal wasnít it? But he didnít go home very often when we had weekend leave, so whenever Iíd got duty Friday night, heíd take it for me so I could get the train that night instead of Saturday morning. Yes, old Taffy had a heart of gold. Anyway, this day we had to do a route march, full kit and fifty-pound packs too. It was murder that was. Well, we got back to barracks after this fifteen-mile march, and old Taffy was in a bad way. I can still see him now, easing those awful boots off so gently, total agony on his face. Then he peeled his socks down and, good Lord above, his feet were red, I tell you, totally red. His toes were bleeding, his heels were bleeding, God, he was a mess. The daft old sod had only got the wrong boots hadnít he? I donít know how he did it to this day, but somehow heíd managed to pick up Steamy Spencerís by mistake. They were a full size too big for him, theyíd been slipping and sliding all the way, chafing him raw. He got a right dressing down from the Sergeant-Major for that one, I can tell you. It was funny afterwards, you know? But not at the time. Not for Taffy anyway. Not for me either really. But we had a good laugh about it when his feet had finally healed up. We used to roll about laughing at that one after a few pints. He had a laugh on him too, did Taffy. A real belly laugh. Actually, I think it started somewhere in those feet of his, and worked its way up, till it burst out of his mouth like a train. Loud, and really infectious. You just couldnít help joining in when Taffy Thomas laughed. We went into action a few months after that march, and Taffy kept us laughing all the way to North Africa. He was killed there the day after we arrived. One of Rommelís bloody tanks got him and a bunch of others. By the time I got to them, Steamy Spencer was already gone. But Taffy was still alive, God knows how. His right side was blown away completely. He said to me ďI donít suppose I need to bother about my feet now, do I?Ē I just took his left hand and waited. It didnít take long. He didnít speak again.

~*~

This is getting beyond a joke. Itís ten past eleven now. I reckon there must be a strike on or something. Thatís two buses that havenít come. If I donít get to the dance by half-past, Iíll miss Mrs. Witham. Jean. Itís strange, I canít get into the habit of calling her that, only when I talk to her. Iíd start walking, but this damned leg is playing up again. Another of Rommelís presents that was. Great piece of shrapnel in it, just above the knee. They keep saying theyíll be able to operate on it in a few years, but at the moment itís just a bit beyond them. They said that in í49 when I first went, and theyíre still saying it now. Odd how the future seems to slow down as it approaches the present, isnít it? If you talked to a doctor in them days, theyíd have you believe theyíd be bringing old Lazarus back every day of the week in ten years, as well as swapping peopleís brains and goodness knows what else. But somehow, everything seems to get stretched out as it gets nearer. So Iím still waiting for them to get the right tools or whatever to do something about this wretched lump of metal thatís been in me for sixty years. Still, it could be worse. I could have ended up like poor old Taffy. Funny, I came out of the War with two lumps of metal, and they both came from the same thing. Getting big Billy Beddowes and Pete Rowsley out of that bunker and getting my stupid self blown up in the process. I was pulling Billy back away from the bunker when a Panzer rounded on us and spat out a shell straight at the bunker. It exploded the bit of ammo that was still there and threw us fifty feet over the sand. Billy got a lump in his back, took out a kidney, and I got this thing in my rotten leg. Mind you, I got us all back somehow. Billy only died last year. I went to his funeral. Took both my lumps of metal with me too. One in my leg, the other on my lapel; ďFor ValourĒ, it says on it. I donít take it out very often.

~*~

Half-past eleven. No bloody bus. I think Iíll go home, Iíll have missed the dancing by now anyway. Damn buses, I donít know what theyíre coming to these days. Itís not as though everyone has a car. Some of us still have to rely on them. Still, thereís another dance next week. A weekís not a long time to wait. Not really, when you think about it.
 

 

 

Copyright © 2000 Simon King
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