iamhyperlexic

Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Joseph Heller writes a bus journey

As soon as Yossarian saw the bus inspector, he knew he hated him.  The inspector waited on the pavement and observed the driver open the little door above the windscreen and furiously wind the handle round to change the display giving the bus’s destination.  The mechanism made a high-pitched, metallic ululation which set Yossarian’s teeth on edge.  Just as the inspector got on, Yossarian stood up and walked to the front.

‘What the hell are you doing?’  he demanded.

‘Changing the display so that it says “Roundhay Park” instead of “Shadwell”, and changing the number from 44 to 25.’

‘Why?’

‘This bus isn’t going to Shadwell anymore.’  This inspector nodded his agreement with the driver, and adjusted the dark green polyester clip-on tie and white nylon shirt-collar that were part of his uniform.  Yossarian thought it was cheap of the bus company to provide clip-on ties: it made it more difficult to strangle the employees with their own neck-wear.

‘But the timetable says that the number 44 goes to Shadwell.’

‘Yes.’

‘So why are you changing it?’

‘Because this is now a 25 terminating at Roundhay Park.’

‘But I want to go to Shadwell.’  The driver glanced at the inspector, who answered.

‘In that case, sir, you need to stay on this bus until it terminates, wait 17 minutes until it returns to the centre of Leeds, get off on Vicar Lane, and then catch the next 44 going to Shadwell.  It is the 44 that goes to Shadwell, you see.’

‘I know the 44 goes to Shadwell.  That is why I got on the 44.  This bus was a 44 until you changed it.  I bet if I went back into town and got on another one, you’d change that too.’

‘Before we go any further, sir, do you mind if I see your ticket?’

‘Here.  Knock yourself out.’

‘Mmm.’  The inspector’s eyebrows bristled, his eyes narrowed, and his forehead creased with disapproval, as he regarded the ticket.  ‘I am afraid this ticket is not valid, sir.’

‘What the hell are you talking about?  This is off-peak, isn’t it?’

‘It is indeed off-peak, sir.’

‘Well that’s an off-peak adult fare ticket, isn’t it?’

‘It was.  It isn’t anymore.’

‘What?  Why not?’

‘The off-peak fare has been raised from £1.70 to £1.95.  You need to pay another 25 pence.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since the Cathcart Coach Company raised the off-peak fare to £1.95.’

Yossarian wearily examined his loose change.  He didn’t have 25 pence.

‘There is an alternative,’ the inspector hinted.

‘What?’

‘When you go back into town, we could take you to our Public Relations Department, and you could give a statement telling the public what a fine job you think we are doing.’

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