On the fourth day of this challenge, the philosophy of About Time met its first true test. For it was one of those days that seemed to suddenly spiral uncontrollably into disaster.
It hardly began well. Some days, things just don’t work. You can’t decide what to wear. You showered only a few hours ago, but already your face feels clammy under the heavy foundation you plastered over your imperfections. It is uncomfortable. You can’t find earrings to match the odd outfit you finally selected. Someone has hidden your shoes.
These are the days when you really resent the commitments that lie ahead, outside your home. Especially when – like signing-on appointments at the job centre – they are forcibly imposed upon your time. You know nothing can go well. The day has already proved itself defective. If your time was your own, you would cut your losses and hide inside.
But time rarely is. So, as the minutes crept ever closer to 2pm, I could be seen by passing cars traversing the grey pavements at top speed; power walking past Costa and the shutters of empty, unoccupied shops, racing for the bus stop. When I arrived, however, there was a notable absence of the elderly. This was prime ‘potter into town’ time. Where was everyone? I couldn’t have missed it. I still had minutes to spare.
The bad news was pinned on the back of the shelter. Apparently, this short timetable was different to my online copy. By five minutes. In suburbia, where councils don’t give a shit about public transport, this is the most catastrophic of calamities. A true disaster. A lone figure in the transparent bus shelter, trying desperately to hide from the constant traffic under a fringe which refused to behave, I did what every twenty-something does. I plonked myself down and sought comfort by frantically sending texts of woe.
BFF, who had already been informed of my reluctance to leave the house, received the following:
“Oh fuck now i got the wrong time for the bus. so i’m either going to be late or sitting here for 45 mins and very late! Today is not going well. Trying to imagine how About Time guy would look positively on this situation… I’m not sure its possible!!!”
I recieved the following reply:
“Don’t panic! What will be will be.”
That was not helpful. Rising to scan the timetable some more, I was presented with a series of secretive council codes. They hung over the exact times that were my only hope of arriving within the next two hours.
SCH. This transpired to mean ‘school holidays only’. Had the schools gone back? How was I supposed to know? I decided they must have, since I couldn’t see any tiny people. Only ones with grey hair. No luck there then.
COLL. Only in college term time. Again… how was that helpful? More emergency texts were sent, requesting people at computers look up the term dates for the local colleges.
I sat, encased in the glass shelter like an exhibit in a museum. The disheveled female, framed for all to pass by and stare at; hunched over, hiding behind the phone-holding hand from which excruciating music was emitting, as I waited and waited to be connected to the job centre.
Eventually, however, the bus arrived. As I sat down among its completely deserted seats, my phone bleeped.
“Maybe your lateness will lead you to meet someone on the bus that you would otherwise have missed”
When the bus arrived at the college and hoards of people clambered on, I almost laughed out loud thinking about this text. As I unlocked my phone to reply, I was surrounded by teenagers and suffocating in a cloud of aftershave. “Unlikely”, I typed, trying not to chuckle.
In the end I made it with two minutes to spare. My appointment was brief. I walked away from the job centre smiling. I wouldn’t have to return for another two weeks. Before I reached the bus station, I slipped inside a passing supermarket and spent my remaining £4.31 on a big bag of salty pretzels and a bottle of Coke Zero. It was well worth it.
And, you know what, the BFF was right. A considerate bus driver diverted me to the bay where his vehicle was (incorrectly) waiting (nonetheless curtailing another public transport catastrophe) and, when I climbed on, I did meet someone I might not otherwise have seen. Granted, he wasn’t a massive hotty of the Domhnall Gleeson variety. He was a slightly autistic, bespectacled, overweight bloke I sometimes see walking in the field. But he is just as kind.
The journey home is a long one, weaving around endless housing estates. Yet our conversation carried us the whole distance. And, as he talked, his initial reserve and flat smile left, and he became increasingly open and exuberant. When we both disembarked that rattly old bus, leaving behind an average age of 75, he gave me a bright, warm smile. Its so nice to watch someone blossom before your eyes, all because you crept out of your own selfish shell and noticed them. Its so nice to have had the company of a semi-stranger.
When the day began I was not sure that I could sustain this challenge. I was not convinced that there would be anything to relish. As I sit, munching on my pretzels back in an empty house, I concede how wrong I was.