3rd Prize (2012/13) - The Incident on the Number Thirty-Six by Ceri Lowe-Petraske

The Incident on the Number Thirty Six
by Ceri Lowe-Petraske

It’s been six days and ten hours since it happened. The Thing. It happened on the forty first day and forty-one is not a good number. But I’ve started taking the bus again and things are almost back to normal. I like it when things are normal. Things are normal but not the same because I take a different bus now, not the thirty-six. But the seventy-five is okay. Both buses go to the Waldorf Centre and I can get on at the same stop. My stop is the Stop with the Circus Posters. They used to be cancer posters but someone took them down and now they are circus posters. The circus will be happening between the twentieth of March and the twentieth of April but I won’t go because I don’t like circuses.
      When I first started taking the number thirty- six bus I drew a map in my book so I knew where to get on and get off. I liked travelling on that bus because thirty- six is a lucky number. You can divide thirty-six by one, two, three, four, six and other numbers. Seventy-five is not as good although it’s not a seventeen or one of the really bad numbers. I don’t think I could ever catch a seventeen.
      My journey used to last twenty two minutes each way, every day except Saturday and Sunday.
      In my book I have the old list:
1. Stop with the Cancer Circus posters (Get on)
2. Stop by the River (6 mins*) (Mr Specs)
3. Stop with the Iron Bridge (5.5 mins*) (Red Jacket)
4. Stop with the Coffee Stand (4 mins*) (Peter Knowles)
5. Stop with the Two Tall Trees (2.5 mins*) (Bingo)
6. Stop with the Marble Statue (4 mins) (Get off)
*Times between stops
The fourth morning I ever took the number thirty-six, Peter Knowles came to sit next to me at the back. Four is quite a good number because you can divide it by two. I asked him if he knew about the marble statue. He said that he didn’t really. I liked Peter Knowles and his badge with his photograph on because he smelled like my grandpa and had a voice that sounded like walking on gravel. I wanted to sit next to him every day. But that’s not how it goes on buses.
      On the morning the thing happened, I wish he’d sat next to me but he didn’t. He sat in the seat behind Red Jacket. If he had sat next to me I would have talked to him. But he didn’t. I even put on a special smile and put all my fingertips against on the windows and counted to ten. I pressed them hard all at the same time. But he still didn’t come.
      The Thing happened six days ago. Six is an okay number but six sixes are thirty-six so now I’m not so sure. But I think days are good things; they always begin and end in the same way, but the bits in between are different. There are different things like The Thing happen. And this is how everything is measured.
      Sometimes days are good and sometimes days are bad. You can usually tell if a day is going to turn out bad because something bad happens first thing in the morning.  It might be something like you forget to touch the door on the way out or the bus jerks and you don’t get a full ten of fingerprints all on the window at the same time. Or you spill coffee over someone. Or you trip over something when you should be breath-holding or clever-stepping. But sometimes a bad day will come out of nowhere for a test or a surprise. I like to make a list of good days and bad days and all the things that are the same, whether they are good or bad.
In my book I have:
Get up in the morning.
Clean teeth*
In between bits
Clean teeth*
Go to bed at night*
*These bits of the day are the same for everyone except for policemen and doctors who have to work at night. They sleep in the day. But for everyone else it’s either a good day or a bad day, based on the bits in between. The most interesting thing is that one person might be having a good day and someone else a bad day; it’s not the same for everyone. And you can’t always tell by looking.

On the thirteenth day I took the bus, I talked to Mr Specs about it. Thirteen is not a good number for anyone. Margaret in the Waldorf Centre says that this is common knowledge when I told her what I thought about thirteen. Mr Specs gets on at the Stop by the River and looks a bit like Austin at the Waldorf Centre. Both of them have stripy suits and blue ties. I told Mr Specs about finger-pressing and about good days about how there’s always five days in a row and then two days in a row.  But Mr Specs wasn’t really interested, not like Austin. He looked at me through his big, thick glasses.
    “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t quite understand what you mean.”
    “There is a pattern, five days two days. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…And they’re all different. And you just don’t know if it’s going to be a good day for you or a bad day for someone else.” Mr Specs looked around the bus and not really at me. That’s when I could tell he wasn’t listening.
In my book I have:
Sometimes when people are not looking at you, they are still listening.
Most times when people are not looking at you, they are not listening.
There are also times when people are looking at you and not listening.
Austin says that it is helpful to write down things that are confusing.
Then the bus stopped at the Stop with the Iron Bridge and Red Jacket got on. Mr Specs looked around and shook his head and pointed to the papers he was always carrying.
      “Sorry, need to catch up on some things here,” he said. I didn’t like that. He never spoke to me again, although I did try to talk to him a couple of times. I don’t think he recognised me, even though I wear the same jacket every day. Margaret says I am a creature of habit. This is someone who likes to do the same thing all the time.
      “Morning,” I said as he got on at the Stop by the River. The river runs all the way through the city but this is the only stop where you can actually see the water. Most days it’s just brown like dirty tea. I don’t say Good Morning because I don’t know if it is a good or bad morning for him. He looked over at me and then looked around the bus. I’m not sure he knew it was me, so I said it again. “Morning.”
      I think he must be quite short of sight. That’s probably why he wears those massive spectacles. Margaret says glasses make people look clever but I don’t think Mr Specs is clever as he is very forgetful. Maybe he should keep a book, like me.

Before The Thing I thought Red Jacket and Mr Specs were friends. They’re not friends - they just always sit near each other on the bus. Not next to each other, just near each other. Margaret would say that they are creatures of habit too. But they’re not friends. Red Jacket gets on at the Stop with the Iron Bridge. That’s one of my favourite stops, even though it’s the third stop after I get on and three is not the best number. I wish I got on there. The bridge is for trains and sometimes when it’s a very good day a train goes over the bridge at the same time that we go underneath it. If you hold your breath as the train and the bus cross it will definitely be a good day.  The bridge is black and crackly. Even though I don’t see her anymore I think she probably still wears the red jacket, only now it has a coffee stain on it.

My least favourite stop is the Stop with Two Tall Trees. The look like they might be the tallest trees in the world but I know they’re not, they’re just pretending. This is stop for liars. The tallest trees in the world are in America, not here. It is stop number five, which is a terrible number. And it’s where Bingo gets on the bus.
    “Return please, Drive,” Bingo says. That’s what he used to say every morning. The bus driver isn’t called Drive, he’s called Roger, I have seen his badge but Bingo always calls him Drive. Drive is what he does, not who he is. Austin laughed at me when I told him that but it’s true. Bingo sits right at the back on the other side from me. As he walks up the aisle he gets a good look at what everyone is carrying so he can steal things. When the driver gives him his ticket, he always says: “Bingo.” Bingo isn’t his real name - it’s a game of numbers. I don’t like the word bingo because it ends in an O. Nothing should end in an O; it’s not a real ending, it’s not complete. And it has five letters.

The day of The Thing was a bad day. It was the forty first day I caught the number thirty- six. Forty one. Four and one is five. I could only clean my teeth with two brushes because I was running late and I can’t miss the bus. If I miss the bus then I am on a different path for the whole day if that happens, it’s nearly impossible to get back to the day you should have been having, whether that was supposed to be a good day or a bad day. So I had to run to catch the bus.
      When I got there they had changed the posters at my stop from Cancer Research posters to the Circus posters. I didn’t like that. Now I couldn’t press my hands against the cancer sign to stop me from getting it. But the bus came quite soon. This is the first stop except for the bus station, for the Number 36 so I could always sit in the same seat. It was at the back of the bus on the right hand side as you look from the front.  But on that day it was different. When I got to my seat there was someone already sitting there. It was Bingo.

I sat on the other side, at the back. I thought it was the next best seat on the bus but I didn’t know for certain. My hands were shaking when I got to my seat and Bingo was playing music really loud and laughing to himself. I wanted to ask him if I could sit in my seat but I couldn’t get the words out. I stood up and went over to him. He lifted up his headphones and there was still music streaming out onto the floor. I tried to say it a few times but it wouldn’t come out. It’s like when someone new starts at the Waldorf Centre.
    “W-w-w-watcha want?” said Bingo and then he laughed. I’d never heard him stutter before. I stutter sometimes when I am nervous. I still couldn’t get it out so I went back to sit down.
    “Bingo,” he said and carried on playing his music.

After six minutes the bus stopped again and Mr Specs got on. The river had a shopping trolley in it which was not a good sign. He sat in his seat and pulled his papers out of the bag. Then he pushed his face into them until his eyes were all crinkled under his glasses. Five and a half minutes later, Red Jacket got onto the bus. She sat in her seat at the front near Mr Specs and looked out of the window at the iron bridge. There were drips coming down from the bridge and hitting the windows of the bus with a splosh, but there was no train.
    At the Stop with the Coffee Stand, Peter Knowles got onto the bus with a big cup of coffee. He always has the lid off the coffee and cradles it with both hands. He got into the seat behind Red Jacket. It was only two and a half minutes until the stop I liked the least, the Stop with the Two Tall Trees. Even though Bingo was already on the bus, it was still my least favourite stop. I could see him standing up and getting ready to get off the bus even though it was too early. He was getting off where he should have got on. Everything was wrong and backwards. Then, really quickly, it happened.

It looked like nobody was getting on at the Stop with the Two Tall Trees and then Bingo pressed the buzzer really quickly. The bus jolted as it stopped and Peter Knowles jerked coffee over Red Jacket. He looked at her red jacket and tapped her on the shoulder. Red Jacket looked at Peter Knowles. Bingo looked at Mr Specs who was reading important papers. I looked at Bingo. Bingo looked at the bag next to Mr Specs and took something out while no one was looking.  Then he got off the bus. Everything was wrong.

In the distance I could see the Marble Statue. It is eight feet and six inches high and weighs four tons. It is a statue of Queen Victoria. I wanted her face to get closer more quickly so that I could get off the wrong bus. I ran to the front and waited, even though there was a minute left to go.
      “Hey mate, what’s the rush?” said Roger the Driver. Mr Specs looked up from his papers and into his bag.
      “I want to get off now,” I said. “This bus is all wrong.”
    “My wallet’s gone,” said Mr Specs in a loud voice. “Don’t let him get off.”

When I looked through the window, Queen Victoria had stopped getting closer and the driver had locked the doors.
    “Hand it over,” said Peter Knowles. “Just do it and we’ll let bygones and all that?” Someone started touching me all over.
    “Stop,” I shouted. “Please stop.” Red Jacket was rubbing the back of her hood where all the coffee foam was, and making an eergh sound. Then it got all hazy and shiny all at the same time. Someone put a red mash in my face with their fist and took all of the things out of my pockets – my lucky buttons, my book, my ham sandwich, my photos of horses and my money. And then I was lying on the floor with loud noises happening in my ears. I told the police all of that, and that I didn’t really remember any more.
      Peter Knowles waited with me until my Austin from the Waldorf Centre came to collect me. He spoke to the police for me because my face was hurting. Someone kicked my lucky buttons out of the bus and the police said they couldn’t find them, but they did find my book which was good because it has all of the confusing things written down. I told the police that the bus was wrong. They asked me if I got on the wrong bus and I said no. But I won’t get on that bus again in case it goes wrong.

I haven’t drawn a map of my new route yet I will do that on the way home tonight because I don’t know all the stops yet. But there was some good advice on a poster near the bus stop and I wrote it in my book.
In my book now I have:
Don’t talk to strangers.
Report any incidents.
I can still get off at the marble statue and it’s the eighth stop. Eight is a good number because you can divide it by four and by two.

I like it when things are normal.


Anonymous said…
this was a great short story and really captures the mind of a boy of this nature (Autistic, i think)