DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. 01273 603766 - EMAIL [email protected] - www.fulltable.com/fj
text and images throughout copyright
The Voyage of No. 46
They all huddled together under the bus shelter. Those with umbrellas stayed outside: those without tried to find shelter under the rather small canopy of the shelter itself. It was the most dismal day, and especially on a Monday morning. The rain came in torrents, against a background of grey sky. It was as if they were enclosed in a dark waterfall of mist and fog, from which they could see nothing at all, apart from their own company, and the dripping canopy shelter. A rivulet of water ran down the gutter and disappeared, with a lonely gurgle into the drain.
‘When’s that bus coming!’ cried one old woman. Her companion nodded, and drew her coat around herself further. Others shrugged and tried to stop water from trickling down their necks. Old and young, they instinctively drew together against the wet and the damp. It was so miserable, to go shopping or to go to work in this. They once again huddled together, clasped in their own misery. The small of wet clothes and discomfort.
Then suddenly someone cried out. ‘Here it is!’ Javi muttered to herself. ‘About time, too’. She was worried about being late for school, especially when it seemed that everybody picked on her. ‘I’ll bet it was never like this in Trinidad, which was where her mother and father came from. But she was born in England, and knew little else about her original country. At the moment she did not care. All she wanted to do, with all of her twelve years of being in this world, was to get on that bus.
As the bus pulled into the bus-stop, everyone stared. It was a No. 46. but there was a strange name on the destination board. It said ‘Cythera’. No-one really cared, so long as it took them into town. The dozen or so passengers boarded, but were puzzled. There was no-one else on the bus. As Javi entered the rumbling vehicle, she said suddenly to the driver, ‘ Why does it say Cythera on the front?’ The driver looked at her. He was a big, muscular man with a full grey beard, but with friendly eyes. He simply said ‘It’s a code that we’ve started to use. Don’t worry. You’ll get into town, all of you’.
Javi sat down on a seat about three seats from the front. She wanted to get off as quickly as possible. The other passengers behind her were grumbling about the service, nowadays, compared to the past. An Indian lady in a sari was shaking out her umbrella. Two old ladies sat behind her, complaining about how ill they felt, ‘especially in this weather’. Others included a youngish woman, was nose was dripping badly, a black young man who kept banging his mobile phone in order to make it work, and a rather bored young teenager, in a long leather coat, and spiky black hair and boots, who sat in a sullen way, trying to stare out of the window. The others were people who you could find anywhere, with the exception of an old man, who had gasped his way onto the bus, bearing his weight on a stick. A rather ordinary collection of people.
‘Hold tight!’ shouted the driver, and he started off. Javi looked at her ticket. To her surprise, it was stamped over the fare with CYTHERA. She was puzzled. As the bus started, the rain came down again furiously. It was impossible to see outside the windows. Javi tried in vain to rub the window to look, but the outside was blank. She searched in vain for any familiar sights to tell her where she was. And then there was a rumble. The bus lurched slightly, making it feel as if it was leaving the ground! There was a squeal from one of the old ladies behind, and then a gentle floating sensation, as if…as if they were flying. But Javi suddenly felt tired. Nobody made any noise, and before she fell asleep, she distinctly heard the two old ladies snoring.
What awoke her was the sudden thump of the bus, almost as if it was an aircraft landing. She looked out of the window, but still she could see nothing. She felt bewildered and confused. Perhaps they had been hijacked! She looked around at her fellow passengers. They were all yawning and stretching, as if they had come down from a long aeroplane flight. ‘Where are we?’ they were all asking to themselves. ‘Come on out, and see for yourselves!’ boomed the driver. ‘Don’t worry! It’s a special trip for you all! Courtesy of the isle of Cythera! The isle of love! Let’s have a look!. And, surprisingly, everybody filed out of the bus.
They stood and stared in amazement. They were in a vast plain of land, that stretched to a range of blue-grey mountains. A gentle, warm breeze fanned the long grass that surrounded them, creating rippling patterns, as if the grass itself was water. All around them, they heard sounds: the distant roll of the sea-waves, the whisper of the wind in the grass, and the soft, tinkling sound of small streams, that ran through the land around them. They even heard (as one would say later) the gentle voices of people singing. They stood together awkwardly, not sure where to go.
‘ Go and explore!’ exclaimed the driver, who, by now, had removed his jacket. To Javi, he looked as it he was a god. Look at the streams! They are clean and fresh! Drink it all in! When you’ve finished, come back to the bus’.
They obediently moved off. ‘Oh, lor’, said Ethel (for she was one of the two old ladies on the bus). ‘It’s better than Southport, isn’t it!’ They moved outwards from the bus, a comforting presence. The driver, or god, whatever he was, treated them with humour. One of the first to enjoy it was the dark boy in the black leather coat. On reaching one of the tinkling streams, he suddenly took off his coat, and then sat down and started, with some effort to pull his boots off, and then his socks. He rolled up his trousers, and then walked into the water. His face lit up with delight. ‘It’s wonderful! It feels so wonderful! Come on, all of you!
Hardly knowing what they were doing, but now excited, the rest followed. ‘Come on, Annie! cried the first old lady. ‘You can remember this!’ And at that, everyone, the Indian lady, the old, rather pompous gentleman (who we haven’t mentioned before) the young woman with the snuffly nose, in short everyone, paddled into the lovely cool stream. Javi was so thrilled: the tingling of the water between her toes, and the gentle push of its current against her ankles, gave her a peace and happiness that she had not known for a long time. In a procession they paddled down the stream, turning around and splashing each other, as if they were old friends together. The dark boy in front of Javi kept turning around and throwing handfuls of water at her. She tasted it, and it was so clean and fresh. ‘It’s better than toothpaste! She cried at him. ‘It certainly is!’
None of them knew how long they had paddled, but they became aware that the driver-god was calling them. They splashed back, and finally arrived, carrying their shoes and socks. ‘Leave them there! he bellowed. ‘It’s time for a feast! Come with me!’ And he led them all to an amazing sight, on the other side of the bus. There was a grove of sweet-smelling trees, and in the middle, was a huge table, laden with fruit, sweetmeats and other fragrant dishes, together with cups and pitchers of perfumed drinks. On each side there were cushioned stools for everybody. Young girls, clad in knee-length tunics, stood behind each seat. The driver-god beckoned them to sit down. ‘Let the feast begin!’ he cried grandly.
‘Oh, ‘eck,’ said Annie, one of the old girls. ‘I don’t know whether me false teeth will cope with this!’ ‘Come on,’ said Ethel, ‘Just eat all the soft stuff’. ‘I must say , this is a nice spread. And such lovely polite girls, too’. Javi found herself sitting next to the dark boy, and, whether, it was this special occasion, or whether she enjoyed his company, they talked together all the time. She found out his name was Robin, and he was, despite his appearance, very intelligent and amusing. Everybody around the table were talking to each other, about anything, about themselves. Nobody minded.
It was at this point that Robin stopped talking, and looked directly at one of the girls who had been serving them. She was puzzled. Why was he so anxious? Then he stood up, and addressed her. ‘Please, can I ask your name?’ She walked across to him, with a small smile on her lips. For a moment, she felt jealous, but realised that Robin wanted to know something.
She was very beautiful, with soft curving lips, a slender body, and golden tresses of hair. She waited to hear what he had to say, with the same small smile.
‘I think I know who you are. I never dreamt that I would ever meet you. I think I am one of the most privileged people in the world. And I thank you’. Javi had never dreamt that he could be so…so ‘gallant’.
‘You know me. Yes, I am Aphrodite, or as others know me, Venus. I was born here in the sea by Cythera, though I later went to the island of Cyprus. You are a very wonderful young man, and I think that you will fall in love with this young girl beside you. Look after her: she is worth it. Now’, and she clapped her hands, ‘let the feast continue!’
Javi whispered to him a few minutes later: ‘How did you know?
‘I don’t know. I just felt it’.
At that moment, the driver clapped his hands. ‘It is time to go. It is time for the return’. He added quietly, ‘You will never remember any of this. But there will be a difference to you. Unlike many gods we believe in doing good amongst mortals. Now let us board the bus’.
‘Goodness me, my legs feel better.’
‘So they should. They’ve had a good nice bathe.’
‘That food was so lovely too, better than the supermarket’.
‘Yes. That was a nice little outing. Could be doing with that on a Monday’.
‘What makes you think its still a Monday?
‘I don’t know, do I? I can’t get hold of the time any more’.
Anyway, that Aphrodite was really nice, wasn’t she?’
‘Yes, lovely girl. Very pretty and very well-spoken too’.
‘Must say, I’d like to come here again’.
The bus left. Once again, they slept and never saw anything on the journey. There was a clump. They all woke up. ‘What’s happened’ ‘Sorry, madam, we’ve got a fault. You all have to get out and wait for the next one. It’ll be along soon’. They all groaned and got out into the rainy air again. As Javi passed by the driver, he looked her, and then, without warning, he gave her a big wink. Then he closed the doors and sped off down the road. The next bus came five minutes later. ‘Come on’, he said. ‘it’s Monday. No time to waste’.
Frank Jackson (14/07/07)