The Ticket

It seemed a strange job for someone so painfully shy. But it was partly to try and combat his shyness that he had taken the job of bus driver in the first place. His grades were good enough for college, but no where near good enough for university. As such he found himself behind the wheel of a bus, and for the first time in his life, he felt truly happy.

The thick plastic screen was thought a hindrance by many. A barrier between himself and those he was trying to communicate with, but as the years went by he became grateful for it. It kept away the drunks on the late night shifts. It brought a gratefully received premature end to the joking of the afternoon mums. Cocooned in his little cage, time and the world passed him by.

But that all changed with the new range of smart buses. The current thinking in the council was to empower people, and that meant removing the screens. The passengers would still tear off the ticket themselves, no chance of any close interaction with the driver, but the screens were gone. The first routes were changed over to the new buses, and who better to be moved on to the new morning routes than himself, Mr Dependable.

For the first time he was unshielded by the transparent barrier. He still had the uniform of course, but that was no protection from the raw presence of the general public. And so, inevitably, he fell in love.

He did not know of course, people often don't. At first she was just another passenger, with anonymous long brown hair, below average height and wearing the drab colours of a charity shop. She got on at the same stop, the same time every morning. Always a "Return ticket for zone 1, please". But she was polite, and always smiled. Most importantly for him, she said no more than was needed.

As the days went by he began to look forward to seeing her, and began to keep an eye out for when she got off. It was not easy, he always seemed to miss her, and with the advent of summer she'd taken to hiding her hair in a baseball cap that shielded her eyes. Then it was obvious when he saw her. Most of the passengers alighted at the same place, the shop workers, hospital nurses, patients, and college students all shared the same stop.

Then one day, she did not have the money. She searched her purse, but all she had was cards. "Don't worry." He said. "Pay double tomorrow." She was so grateful, and the next day when she flashed him a warm smile, his heart felt like it missed a beat. From that day on they seemed to share a secret, the other passengers oblivious to their connection.

A few weeks later, a car hit a pedestrian in front of his bus. There were other passers by, and he was grateful that he could stay in his little shell. The ambulance arrived quickly and whisked the man away. But it still made him late. When he arrived at her stop, she seemed sick with worry. She had grown thinner over the weeks, and seeing her made something in him hurt. But she was relieved that he had turned up at last, and he felt proud that he had been able to help her.

As time went by, and autumn returned, she dispensed with the baseball cap, revealing her short cropped hair. Then one day she was waiting at the stop carrying a small suitcase and an overnight bag.

"Single ticket for zone 1, please." She asked.

"Ah." He replied. "I've already punched for a return."

She bit her lip slightly. "Here," He said, tearing it off. "Take the return. After all, you never know!"

As he handed over the ticket, their hands touched for the first time. "Yes. You never know." She said, and smiled back at him.