Your Satisfaction is Guaranteed:
It is quite incredible how a bus -- a simple, red, London bus -- can change your life.
There were other reasons for why what happened eventually happened, of course. I'm not saying it was all about the bus. But the bus was pretty high on the list. Or, more accurately, the man sitting next to me on the bus. Here he is, right now, flicking through his Evening Standard, checking his cheap, black watch, mere moments after uttering a sentence that, quite without him knowing, has had the most unexpected effect on me.
It's like one of those moments in a cartoon, when a second of complete and total revelation hits an unenlightened fool, a moment in which they're bathed in a golden light from the heavens above; their face a picture of comfort; the only sound the chorus of a thousand angels.
Of course, real life isn't quite like that. I'm on a crowded bus in the East End of London, for a start, and so the only thing I'm bathed in is an unpleasant mist of sweat and coughs.
But it's still an epiphany. And I'm still smiling from what I've heard, smiling from what I've learned. I start to wonder whether anyone else is feeling the same. So I sneak a chance to glance around. To see if one of my fellow passengers has been struck by the man's simple message; his message of hope and optimism and all the things I hadn't realised I'd been losing sight of.
But no one has. Not that I can see, anyway. That's okay, though. There's time for them.
Because this man next to me...this man has changed everything.
"Maybe it was Jesus," said Ian, putting his pint down on the table. We were in the Yorkshire Grey, and Ian was a bit drunk. "Or maybe it was Buddha! I'd love to meet Buddha. He looks like a right laugh. What did this bloke look like? If he had a beard, it was probably Jesus, and if he had a belly, it was probably Buddha."
"He had a beard, but it wasn't a Jesus beard."
"A belly, then?" he said with what looked like real hope in his eyes. "Did he have a Buddha belly?"
"I'm fairly sure he wasn't Buddha, either. This was an Indian bloke. His name was Medhi, or something."
"'Medhi' sounds a bit like 'Jesus.'"
"No, it doesn't. And it wasn't Jesus. What would Jesus be doing in Bethnal Green?"
"There are some nice pound shops in Bethnal Green."
"Jesus is the son of God, Ian, he doesn't need discount shops."
"Cor, imagine the pocket money you'd get if you were the son of God."
"Ian...I'm trying to tell you about my life-changing moment, and you're going on about Jesus in a pound shop."
"Sorry, go on. So there was this bloke on a bus last week, who wasn't a deity or a son of God, and then there was also your diary?"
Yes. There was also my diary. High up on the list, right under the bus, was my diary. A diary I had only started because I was afraid I would forget all the wonderful things I was doing. All the dazzling, crazy, hazy times. The important times, the carefree times, the times I'd look back on as the times of my life. Only when I flicked through it did I realise there was nothing to forget. Or, rather, nothing worth remembering.
Things had been different last year. Last year was a year of adventure. Of fun. Of friends. Six months into a new year I'd slowly begun to realise that all my stories were about last year. All my memories, too. I'd been cruising on past glories, dining out on better times. Well, that's not strictly true. Not true at all. I'd been dining in on them.
For a number of months I'd been labouring under the impression that everything in my life was fine. I was a single man in his midtwenties, living in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Turns out I was a single man in his pants, sitting in his flat.
It had happened to me once before, this strange sense of midtwenties crisis, but it had happened when I'd lacked direction. These days I had direction. Plenty of it. But the direction was down.
In my mind I was one of London's young, thrusting urbanites. In my mind I was always on the go, always had somewhere to be, always in the thick of things. I thought I was like something out of an advert. I probably even thought I had a moped.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Especially about the moped.
And this is what I would finally realise after I got home from talking to the man on the bus.
I'd ended up talking to the man on the bus quite by chance.
It was, until that moment, just another day working in the West End, followed by just another dash to the Tube station in what was just another hopeless attempt to beat the rush hour and get home without spending an hour on a crowded train with my cheeks pressed up against a stranger's nipples, receiving severe paper cuts every time they turned a page of their book.
We'd been standing, me and this man, waiting for the Central Line train to take us from Holborn to the East End, when the announcement had spluttered and stuttered its way over the tannoy. It was a security alert. We were being asked to leave. Our journeys home had just gained an hour. We'd be shunted and squeezed onto buses outside and driven home, very slowly during rush hour, on a rainy, rainy London night.
The man and I had raised our eyebrows at each other and smiled in a "what's the world coming to" way, but other than that we didn't say a word to each other. We'd simply started to walk up the stairs and out of the station, like the good, old-fashioned, obedient British citizens we were.
"Nice weather for this!" said the man as we jogged through a slanting rain and flashed our travel cards at the bus driver. I ha-ha'ed, probably a little too ha-hard, and we joined the seething masses on board the bus.
After ten minutes and three stops, we found seats for ourselves, and after another ten, we had begun to chat.
"Where are you headed?" I'd asked.
"Aldgate," he'd replied.
The man, as it turned out, was a teacher.
And he was about to teach me.
"So, what did he teach you?" said Ian.
"I'll tell you in a minute."
"Tell me now. I want to know what kind of wisdom he imparted on you that's caused you to summon me here."
"I didn't 'summon' you here."
"You sent me an e-mail saying that your entire life had changed and that you wanted to meet up."
"That's hardly summoning. I was more saying 'Do you fancy a pint?'"
"Great. I do. Thanks."
I sighed, stood up, and went to get us a round.
Now that I think about it, my downward spiral had probably started after I'd been dumped by my girlfriend last autumn. It was a shock to the system, a body blow that had really changed things.
But don't go thinking I'm all hung up on an ex-girlfriend. This isn't one of those stories of obsession and regret and of trying to get back together. I've never been someone who would have made an effective stalker, for one thing, lacking as I do both the necessary energies and a decent pair of binoculars.
It's just that being dumped suddenly puts time into perspective. I'm not saying my three years with Hanne were wasted, because they weren't; they were great and warm and loving. I'm just saying that at the end of any relationship you take a long, hard look at the years that have gone by and say "What now?"
So I did three years of growing up in two weeks. I returned to the world of freelance employment as a radio producer at the BBC. I got a mortgage. And a pension. I started to shop at Habitat and IKEA. I experimented with new and exciting pastas. I bought a colander and some air freshener and a fountain pen. I learned how to iron. I even bought a plant.
Most of these were small changes. But soon, quite without my knowing, I developed a certain satisfaction for staying in. For pottering about and tinkering with things. For slouching, and napping, and channel hopping. Soon that was all I wanted to do. And so I became the man who could wriggle out of any prior engagement. Who could spot an invitation coming a mile away and head it off at the pass. The man who'd gladly swap a night down the pub for just one whiff of an episode of EastEnders. The man who'd send an e-mail instead of attend a birthday. Who'd text instead of call, and call instead of visit. I became the man who'd mastered the white lie. The man who always had an excuse. The man who always said no.
And I was perfectly happy. Perfectly happy to be me, myself, and ironing. Perfectly happy until that night on that bus, next to that man.
"Okay. So, there was a man," said Ian. "And you sat next to him. So far this isn't really what you'd call a classic anecdote."
"But it's what he told me that was important, Ian."
"Yes, it sounds it. But what did he say? What was it that he actually said that changed things? Because right now all I know is that a man said something to you."
"He said, 'Have patience'?"
"No, that's what I said, just then. What he said was more important."
"But what was it?"
It was my friends who'd noticed it first. They'd noticed I'd changed, or that I just wasn't around as much as I was, or that I was just saying no a lot more often.
There were the odd nights down at the pub, of course, and I always agreed that we should do it more often, but it just never seemed to be the right night. I was too tired, or there was something I wanted to watch, or I just felt like being alone. I couldn't put my finger on it. The weird thing was, it didn't make me sad. Not while it was happening, anyway. It only made me sad when I finally realised the effect it was having on my friendships; on the friends I was letting down or annoying or disappointing or even losing.
But at the time I just didn't notice it. The sad fact is, saying no had become a habit.
"Aha! I knew it!" said Ian, pointing his finger slightly too close to my face. "I knew you were always making excuses!"
"I know. And I'm sorry."
"That night when you said you couldn't come out because you'd won a competition to meet Lionel Richie, was that an excuse?"
"How about that time you couldn't co...
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Book Description: Simon Spotlight Entertainment 2005-07-26, 2005. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1416900667 This book is brand new. Please note that US Standard shipping can take 4 - 14 business days for delivery. Please contact us with any questions - we are happy to help you!. Bookseller Inventory # TM-1416900667
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