As I waited at the empty bus stop, I was suddenly compelled to write a novel.
The notion itself surprised me. After all, I hadn't utilized my literary juices for the best part of the last decade. I hadn't felt the inspiration, nor the desire, since 25th December 2000, and it's not merely the commercial failure of 'Blood Beneath The Christmas Tree', lambasted by critics and fans (now ex-fans) alike.
But as the rickety old bus emerged from the forest in the east and charged towards the solitary figure, I never felt so certain that tonight I should open my dog-earred notebook, brush away the dust and begin a familiar routine that was rapidly becoming unfamiliar.
I flagged down the bus (not that it was required. The bus was the only available one. There was only a single destination.), which uncharacteristically jerked to a standstill a good few metres beyond the bus stop. I regarded the driver's side-profile, a weather-beaten countenance staring ahead, feigning ignorance to his error and my presence.
The doors swung open, creaking and banging on the walls. I ascended the steps and slotted coins into the ticket machine. The driver pressed some buttons and before the machine could vomit out the bus ticket, he slammed on the accelerator, urging the vehicle forward without warning.
I staggered along the aisle and collapsed at the seat adjacent to the exit. Prior experience had advised me against cursing. The end result was the same with or without the outburst, and I preferred instead to develop story ideas for my new concoction.
So there I sat, completely motionless, my head resting uneasily on the smudged window pane, willing myself to venture into the metaphysical. Green leafed curtains blurred by the window. My head alternated between sun and shadow.
Though by the time the bus reached the next stop, my inspiration source registered nothing more than a few useless abstract concepts which promised little. I was getting resigned to the possibility that I had lost it for good. My eyes swept across the desert landscape, and the grey squat building stranded in a fenced compound populated with a few cars parked haphazardly here and there. A figure was tottering away from the building, and from the distance I couldn't ascertain the gender. A dry stifling heat had begun to engulf the cabin, and I couldn't well imagine the torture the figure had to withstand, especially with the wind spraying sand about and hindering visibility.
The robotic driver seemed perfectly content to wait.
She's from the hospital. That building is the hospital.
The thought flickered and faded quickly, but memory remembered. How did I come to two unfounded conclusions was beyond me, for I had never seen this place before, and my myopic eyesight was dubious. Nevertheless, I was proven right on both occasions.
A woman draped in a hospital gown limped onto the bus, cradling a bundle in her hands. In her youthful and carefree years, she might have been beautiful. But now, witnessing her sunken cheeks and parched lips which perpetually trembled, I recognized only a vagrant. The woman bypassed the toll without paying the fare. The driver unsurprisingly ignored that and slammed on the accelerator again. However, anticipation assisted the woman to quickly settle on the front seat. The bus rocked in its foundations as it negotiated past the sand dunes. The woman hugged the bundle close to her chest.
I considered the bundle. Buoyed by the correct guesses earlier on, my dormant brain worked into overdrive, making assumptions, creating ideas and forging links.
That's got to be a baby. I was so determined that even without seeing the bundle's contents I knew my claim to be true. And from there the seeds of a story grew.
That baby would be the protagonist. He would be born without legs (a physical deficiency definitely lends the character appeal) and his mother, who escaped with him from the hospital (for some reasons unknown yet. Never mind. I shall think this through by the fireplace tonight), would eventually die due to poor health.
I clarify here that I have no intention of cursing the mother and her child, far from it. It just so happened that my previous more successful novels included protagonists haunted with a tainted past, and circumstances reminded me about the proven formula.
Having a beginnings of a backstory, not to mention the ease of earning it, thrilled me. I settled into the role of the observor, awaiting future passengers to supply me with more inspiration. I was careful not to go overboard in the thought process though, for I feared the stream of consciousness danger that would often lead to fantastic nonsense and incongruous genre overlaps (the baby got abducted by cow-resembling aliens. The latter transported its quarry back to their planet where milk covers 75% of the surface and the king cow, sorry, alien, which wears an udder-resembling crown on its head, demands to conduct some scientific experiments on the foreign specimen...)
However, I did allow myself a little bit of indulgence. But as all writers would know, the word 'little' in the context of daydreaming is hugely understated. By the time the bus reached the next stop, I had gathered enough plot points to write another crazy novel altogether.
Where earlier the scorching temperatures had threatened to sap all the water content in my body, now the chill sapped whatever feeling my extremities possessed. A quick glance outside the window revealed a different scenery.
It was snow, snow everywhere.
Minuscule snow bits descended from the sky, floating about lazily. Some kissed and piled on the dirty white terrain. Some got tangled and stuck among the bare branches of the fir trees. At the bus stop, some tumbled off the roof while others slipped through its holes.
This time, the passenger was a young boy around seven to eight years old, decked in white school uniform and long khaki pants, his back burdened by the bloated backpack. He moved with a strange duck-like gait, and his eyes never left the ground. I was slightly surprised when he managed to navigate to his seats without crashing against the supporting poles.
As if on cue, the backstory continued, almost writing on its own.
That baby had grown up in the orphanage. His peers had teased him about his deformities, and the nastier ones often bullied him into giving up his scraps of food during meal times. He had attempted to fit in by making wooden legs, but those bullies targeted him more when they saw him waddling around in the playground. He was nicknamed 'Ducky', and that mutually agreed alias wasn't uttered with tenderness. Without any emotional support, the boy retreated into his shell as he grew up, though he sought refuge in reading...
The boy promptly zipped open his backpack, rummaged through its contents, and fished out a novel.
I stared, unbelieving. The coincidence between the timing of the thoughts and the boy's actions were so spot on to the point of surrealism.
From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw wood extending from the cuff of the boy's pants.
I felt a strange sensation in my chest.
More coincidences occurred in the following stops. The first of which was the unchanging number and gender of passengers (excluding the woman) boarding each time. The second involved a steady increase in the ages. The plotting seamlessly rattered on like a broken record, fitting each passenger into the new stage of the protagonist's life. I was no longer involved, and the independent mind decided to confuse the subject point-of-view. Scenes switched about like Flixter photo services, from soaring mountain ranges to highways leading to isolated islands with deep blue lagoons teeming with coral reefs. But illogical nature had become a footnote among my concerns.
At the seventh stop, darkness became the scenery. The driver switched on the lights in the cabin.
The doors eased open soundlessly. I observed the newcomer with an increasing dread.
A light footfall on the stairs.
The man had dirty matted hair which masked his whole face in curls.
He wore a torn cotton shirt and brown work pants. He carried a photo frame, concealing the picture itself.
He traipsed past the driver.
The sensation morphed into a gripping vice. I struggled to breathe. I sunk lower into the seat, gasping.
He was crying. He was practically wailing with the helplessness of a newborn child. The rest of the passengers appeared oblivious to his pains. They continued to be engaged in their own activities. The woman rocked her baby, whispering a lullaby. The boy stared intently into his book.
Unwittingly or otherwise, he flipped his portrait and revealed the photo. He brushed away his hair to the side and showed his face.
I pushed myself back up and saw
smiling woman rose movie kiss church cottage in the woods pond sunset cough hospital doctor report santa claus christmas tree blood dead woman priest coffin typewriter blank paper
I screamed. I sprung up and dashed for the exit, slamming myself through the doors
blood beneath the christmas tree
and landed on grass.
I blinked and adjusted my vision, wiping away some tears in the process.
I was back in the lawn of my own house. I acknowledged the grey shingles and blue stucco. This was my modest abode all right.
A toddler in the neighbouring garden stared and quickly cycled away in his tricycle when I looked at him.
Behind me, the bus driver looked amused at the wheel. He shook his head and eased the vehicle away from the bus stop.
I sighed. Once more the stream of consciousness had gotten carried away again. I realised with a poignant acceptance, that I couldn't think about my new novel just yet.
I have another protagonist in another story who had been stuck in limbo for years, and I have to lift him out.
That story is a never-ending one, at least in my lifetime. And I knew, that the time to accomplish that feat would be indefinite. But I wasn't daunted.
In fact, I felt the most optimistic in years.
I got myself up, and with the aid of my crutches, went back to my house, the cuffs of my semi-hollow jeans fluttering in the wind.