How Not to Catch a Bus

It took no small effort to push myself up from the gutter in which I was lying.

I had seen the bus, I had run for it, and indeed I had caught it. But not before catching my foot on a wayward slab of pavement and flying headlong into the street.

I hit the ground hard; it was unyielding under my palms and the skin of my knees. I lay there for a moment considering my options. I could set up an almighty wail and commandeer the assistance of kindly passersby. In retrospect that probably would have been the more sensible option, what with already being right by the hospital and everything. But as I lay there face down in the bus lane, for some reason my old and long-unused jiu jitsu training came back to me. Despite not training for well over a year and despite failing my green belt grading ignominiously, as I lay there, the bus lane seemed to take on the aspect of a training mat, and the cars and the bus all became grading opponents. The noise of the traffic became my instructor shouting encouragement and chastisement through the grading. And, as I lay there, the thought that took shape in my mind was GET UP.

I could feel the gravel in my palms, my breath came in ragged gasps. But nothing seemed broken, and with one shaking hand I pushed upwards with all my might. I’d left some skin in the road to get that bus, I’d be damned if it was getting away without me on it.

I lurched forward. The driver had been busily counting coins while the long line of people boarded and obviously hadn’t seen a thing. Someone must have marked my fall but because I rose again so quickly people probably thought it wasn’t all that bad.

Mercifully there was a single seat open. I collapsed into it and promptly passed out.

Something in my dream (I always dream when I pass out–not, mind you, that I pass out often, but when it does happen I dream) shifted oddly and I realized that I was not safely tucked up in bed. It became apparent that the drowsy weaving feeling was the bus moving, the buzzing in my ears was it rumbling along. I looked up. The East London Mosque. 30 minutes to my stop. I looked at my hands; blood was dripping on my bag. I started to cry.

I cried as I thought about my wasted striving: I wanted so to be early. The move to Wapping has put me in a slightly awkward position for commuting and I’d been late to work a couple of days the previous week. This morning, THIS morning, I’d set out to stroll into the office with ample time to spare. But instead I was going to be both late and utterly ineffectual: it’s difficult to type with sizable chunks of the skin on your hands absent. I thought about Sysiphus and his rock: never quite, just never quite being able to make it to the top of the hill. I bet his boulder was sharp, too.

I took the bandage off one hand today. The skin underneath is completely healed; smooth as silk and much shinier than the skin around it. There’s the pink tinge of blood much closer to the surface. It feels different–it feels different under my fingers but also when I brush objects across my palm it feels them differently than the skin around it does.

There are still scabs slowly doing their business, skin busily rebuilding itself layer by layer underneath. There is one stubborn bit of gravel embedded in one palm like the irritant to an oyster; it will have to work its way out in time. It hurt like hell. But at least I can say I got up.