fiction, poetry & more

PAULA & JIM ON THE BUS

by Maureen Bowden

“Jump on the bus and go and sit down, Jim, while I pay the driver.”

“Can I sit by the window, Paula?”

“Yes, if you like.”

“Can we sit here, Paula?”

“Yes, but you’re right in the middle of the seat. Shove up a little bit and make room for me.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“Why couldn’t you take me in your car?”

“It’s broke. The man from the garage is fixing it. Have you ever been on a bus before?”

“No, but my gran told me that she took my mammy on a bus when she was a little girl, and there was a sign on the wall and my mammy said, what does that say? And my gran said, it says No Smoking, and my mammy said why? And my gran said anyone who wants to smoke has to go upstairs and my mammy said, is there a sign upstairs that says Yes Smoking? That’s stoopid isn’t it, Paula?”

“Why is it stupid, Jim?”

“Cos my mammy and daddy say smoking makes you sick and sometimes it makes you die.”

“It does, Jim. You’re right. It is stupid.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“Nanna Debbie used to smoke. Is that why she died?”

“Nanna Debbie was very old, Jim. She was your granddad’s mammy, wasn’t she? I think the time had come for her to die, that’s all.”

“Why didn’t my mammy and daddy take me to the foonral?”

“Children wouldn’t like funerals because they’re sad.”

“Why?”

“Because we miss people when they die and that’s why we feel sad.”

“I don’t. My gran says people go to hebben when they die and do whatever they like, so we needn’t be sad.”

“Okay, we won’t be sad.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“Where’s hebben?”

“Nobody knows until it’s time for them to go there.”

“If they don’t know where it is how do they get there?”

“I expect someone comes to meet them and shows them the way.”

“I heard my mammy and daddy talking about a man who died. He fell in the river. They read it in the newspaper. It said he died because the river’s full of chemicals. They’re in the Bible, aren’t they, Paula?”

“What are?”

“Chemicals.”

“I don’t think so, Jim. Where did you hear that?”

“My teacher, Mrs Mitchell, told us a story in school. It was in the Bible. It said there was a man called Sore and he went around killing chemicals and then he changed his name to Pore and he didn’t do it anymore. And he became a chemical.”

“You mean Christian and the man’s name was Saul. He changed it to Paul.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, Jim.”

“I’d better tell Mrs Mitchell.”

“I think she already knows.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“When are my mammy and daddy coming to your house to get me?”

“As soon as Nanna Debbie’s funeral finishes. They won’t be very long. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried. Do you have a boyfriend in your house?”

“Yes, his name’s Andy.”

“Do you have a baby in your house?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“We don’t want one yet.”

“But all my mammy’s friends who have a boyfriend in their house have babies. There’s Georgia and Jack, and Abbi and Tim, and Hayley and Steve. They all have babies.”

“What about Kelsey and Kyle? They don’t.”

“No, but they have a cat.”

“Well, maybe Andy and I will get a cat.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“I don’t like cats.”

“Why not?”

“Cos the one that lives next door to me scratched me.”

“Oh, that’s a shame, but most cats are nice.”

“I wouldn’t have one in my house.”

“Don’t you like animals?”

“Yes, but they eat bisgustin things. My gran told me that spiders eat flies and birds eat worms. That’s bisgustin.”

“Jim?”

“Yes Paula?”

“What kind of animal would you like to have in your house?”

“A snow leopard. They’re enjangered.”

“Endangered.”

“Yes, enjangered. That means people keep killing them.”

“I know, Jim.”

“Why?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“Do they go to hebben?”

“I don’t . . . I suppose so.”

“Aren’t you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“That’s good.”

“Jim?”

“Yes Paula?”

“If you had a snow leopard in your house what would you give it to eat?”

“Tuna, pasta and Toberlerone.”

“Oh, right.”

“Paula?”

Yes Jim?”

“It’s raining.”

“So it is.”

“The bus driver man’s put his windwipe screeners on.”

“Windscreen wipers.”

“No, windwipe screeners. We have them on our car.”

“I have them on my car too.”

“Is that what’s broke?”

“No, it’s the clutch that’s broke.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s one of the pedals you push to make the car go.”

“Does Andy have a car?”

“Yes.”

“Well, why don’t you borrow his?”

“Because he needs it to go to work, I need mine to go to work, and we don’t work in the same place.”

“So why don’t you tell him to get the bus?”

“Good idea, Jim. I’ll do that.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“Are we nearly at your house?”

“Yes, we get off at the next stop. When we press that button a bell will ring and the driver will stop the bus.”

“Like this?”

“No, don’t do it yet. I’ll tell you when.”

“Paula?”

“Yes Jim?”

“When is our time to die?”

“Usually not until we’re very old.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“Won’t be long now, then.”

Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has published 200 stories and poems in paying markets and was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. In 2019 Hiraeth Books published an anthology of her stories, Whispers of Magic, and will publish an anthology of her poems in the near future. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire set to traditional melodies, and her husband has performed them in folk music clubs throughout the UK.

May 2024