-1"Fifteen Minutes, or The Unfriendly Bus."

On the afternoon of May the tenth I arrived at the Peace Health Family Clinic fifteen minutes late for my blood test. I will always wonder if that fifteen minutes could have possibly made any difference in the result of the test.

What if fifteen minutes earlier I had been anemic, but because I had eaten a full steak dinner moments before the test my iron content had shot through the roof, causing a false test? What if I contracted HIV during those fifteen minutes, from either of the prostitutes I had visited, but because it was so soon before the blood test it couldn't show up properly, and now I would die a slow and painful death because I was fifteen minutes late to my blood test? What if, because of the dirty golf ball I had attempted to swallow at the bidding of the second prostitute, I had swallowed a large amount of bacteria which were still en route to my kidneys, and moments after the test I would contract a violent infection?

The bigger question, however, was what the death machine said.

And, more so, if any of my previous worries somehow could fit themselves into its prediction.

The slip of paper had slid out so fast from the machine which the nurse practitioner had poured a tall vial of my blood into that I thought, perhaps it would be like applying for a credit card at a department store and not getting accepted, that the slip of paper so much like a piece of a toy store receipt would say, "the creditor has more questions for you, and they will contact you within one week via mail."

The nurse practitioner slipped it into a manila envelope and handed it to me, without looking at it.

"What does it say?" I asked her, as she held out a palette of different colored band-aids for me to select from.

"Hell if I know," she said, and slapped a bright yellow band-aid onto my arm without waiting for my selection, "I don't read those things, it reminds me too much of my grandmother, she was stung by a scorpion."

"Well, at least that seems like a straightforward death," I said, trying to reassure her even though she didn't seem phased whatsoever.

"Seems like it, until I tell you it wasn't the animal, it was a member of the band."

"Oh." I said, and left with the envelope.

I waited until I got home to open the envelope.

The whole ride home it sat on the seat next to me in the bus, and I avoided looking at it, because my mind was clouded with worries: HIV? Kidney infection? Violent death associated with anemia? Falling off a bridge when I was trying to catch a rare butterfly in a net, but forever being remembered by my family as a suicide?

As soon as I was in the door I opened the envelope, slowly, because I felt like this was the kind of thing that demands dramatic tension.

I unrolled the piece of paper and straightened it out. Even the small font on it reminded me of a department store receipt.

It didn't say much, either. No "You will die of…" or "We regret to inform you that…" or "One day you will…" No.

All it said, in its tiny mall toy department store receipt font was, "the unfriendly bus". No punctuation, no capitalization, simply that.

I became worried, then.

I usually can ride my bicycle to and from work. It's only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays that I have to ride the bus, to and from my classes at the community college just outside of town. I hesitated. I tried to think of different ways that I could die, but I couldn't even get my imagination started.

What if my bus crashes into a train? What if it flips over and I fly out of the window only to be impaled by a broken street sign? What if I get mugged on the bus? Or if I die of kidney failure on the bus? Or if I choke on a golf ball on the bus? Or if the HIV I may have contracted this morning causes me to undergo a violent death sitting among the local delinquents on the bus?

But why is the bus unfriendly?

Maybe it's one of the older busses, that have been around since my city started using them for public transportation forty years ago. They do seem unfriendly. Or it could be that the bus comes alive like in some Japanese giant monster movie and destroys the town, beginning with all of the riders on the bus. Or maybe it's a bus that doesn't ever go down Friendly St, thereby making it unFriendly. I wonder if anybody else has ever gotten a slip that says "the unfriendly bus".

Nobody talks about the death machine that much. It's not like going in to be tested for a urinary tract infection, wherein you announce to all and sundry that "I had so much sex that bacteria became lodged inside my urethra and now I may have to go on antibiotics because I have been urinating blood" outside of your front door at the top of your lungs. No. It's a little more personal than tests like that. Something you carry inside of yourself and never share with anyone else. Even though you secretly hope you'll be the first to outsmart the death machine and live forever because you figured out that you were going to be buried alive in an avalanche of babies from an exploding orphanage instead of buried alive in dirt or concrete, you know deep down that you'll probably fail in that endeavor and you really don't want to be remembered as "that dude that tried to outsmart the death machine but failed miserably."

The next day I was fifteen minutes late for work. It started when I was trying to wake up, and didn't. I was so late, in fact, that I knew I didn't have time to make the forty-five minute bike ride to the department store where I worked downtown. So, I took the bus.

I hadn't ever taken this specific bus before, bus number "57."

The bus stop was situated next to the train tracks, and was dirtier than it seemed it should be. I avoided sitting on the unoccupied bench, and waited standing just in front of it. I had already forgotten the death machine's prediction the day before. In the dim dawn light I could see a blazing sign down the road, "57-Friendly St". I stepped forward and raised my hand for the bus to stop.

The bus pulled up to the broken curb and I waited for my fellow commuters to get off. As I stepped onto the bus and showed my community college free bus pas the driver scowled, first at the pass, and then at my smile.

I paused, considered the motion, and stepped into the aisle down the center of the bus.

There was not a one window seat taken, instead, straight down the bus every single aisle-side seat was occupied by a scowling figure. None had bags taking up a seat, or children, and they covered every race, colour, gender, and probably other traits I couldn't tell by just looking at them.

I breathed a sigh, and reached up to hold onto an overhead hand bar.

I wonder, if I had been fifteen minutes earlier to my blood test if anything would have been different?