A story about modern-day heroism
AS the bus trundled through the morning rush hour traffic, Derek shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He’d been in a hurry this morning and didn’t have time to go to the toilet before leaving the house. To compound the misery of his straining bladder, he caught the eye of the woman sat opposite him. She smiled. A flush of anxiety flooded through him, sensing as he did an imminent conversation. Before the woman could turn her smile into syllables, however, Derek darted his eyes away. Immediately to his right he found the emergency exit door. In the face of the alternative, he opted to read the instructions stuck thereon. No words were forthcoming from the woman. He breathed a sigh of relief. Beyond the window of the door, cars crawled and jostled for position. Bicycles flew by on the flanks, pedestrians ambled with heads bowed to the altar of their phones.
The bus was stop-starting its way to the industrial estate. Derek recognised the vast majority of the uniforms and suits onboard. As with most mornings, it was near maximum capacity. Every seat was occupied. People were standing in the gangway. A group of secondary school children with impossibly short ties and scruffy blazers had gathered in the open space by the exit in the middle of the vehicle. Their shouts and yelps drew disapproving stares from the glum faced, dream starved adults about them, but none had the energy nor enthusiasm to protest.
‘I hate him,’ hissed one of the schoolboys, full of fury at the sight of something on the screen of his friend’s phone. ‘Like, seriously, honestly hate him. I wanna hack him up and that.’
‘For real?’ replied a female companion, peering in on the same screen, taking a morning sugar hit from a metallic red can. ‘He’s a hero, mate, grew up near my Nan’s estate. Made himself from nothing, he did.’
‘I’ll send him back to nothing then,’ the now burning boy fired back. ‘His ugly mug’s everywhere, does my head in. Hang him from a tree, gut him, throw him to the lions, whatever. That guy’s just gotta die.’
The subject of disdain wasn’t clear to Derek, but he couldn’t help but watch on as the boy motioned stabbing gestures.
‘Who is he?’ asked the boy in possession of the phone. ‘I never heard of him.’
The lad of fury spat the name that so irked him. Derek winced, turning his attention away. He’d presumed the person would be a dictator, a war criminal or a parent. But no, it was a TV comedian. He’d found fame a couple of years ago on a Saturday night talent show. He came third but that didn’t stop him from gracing panel shows, comedy hours and advertisements. It was painfully evident to see that he had progressed to the latter stages of being chewed up and spat out by the public, their ravenous attention seeking out something new.
The vitriol continued to ooze out of the boy, competing with the hum of the engine and a symphony of message alerts. Derek longed to be in his own car again, not surrounded by this rabble of strangers with their various odour problems, contagious viruses and skin disorders. But the mechanic’s quote had seen to that. He sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
The bus had come to a stop at a temporary traffic light at a T-junction blighted by road works. Derek remained still, relatively calmed. The red light had been illuminated for an inordinate amount of time. Likewise, the lights controlling the other lanes. Three paths of motionless traffic sat, engines idling impatiently.
‘Come on, come on,’ muttered the bus driver, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, ‘nobody’s movin’.’
Red. Amber. Green. Derek opened his eyes.
The bus pulled forcefully away. Derek touched the window as he cast his eyes upward. It was an unspectacular day, slightly overcast, but dry. The driver ploughed on with notable speed, eager to make up for the time lost on his schedule. In one elongated second, the front end of an articulated lorry, similarly hurrying forth, filled the middle two windows on the right side of the bus. Every shadowed face inside turned to see it coming, yet they were all rendered silent. Only the desperate blasts of the lorry’s horn accompanied their gawps and widening eyes.
The smashing of glass and the screech of twisting metal echoed hideously inside the bus. A split second after came the petrified screams of those inside being thrown around like beads in a maraca. The lorry came to a shuddering halt; the bus unceremoniously toppled over on to its side, hitting the unforgiving tarmac. All windows on the left side of the bus shattered. Momentum slid the bus away from the lorry, the twisted metal of its broken body squealing across the road. When it finally came to a stop, it was ten yards away from the point of impact.
A grave stillness had replaced the momentary chaos inside. It was dark and smoky. Derek, like every passenger sitting on the impacted side of the bus, had been thrown on top of those sitting parallel to them when it toppled over. His disbelieving eyes took in the incredible scene. A huge, jagged dent bulged into the bus where the lorry had ploughed into its side. Blood dripped from the sharp, exposed metal. People were piled on top of each other, bent and contorted around seats and poles, possibly dead, possibly unconscious. Anything but alive and well.
Pockets of the bloodied mass of suits and uniforms began to twitch and groan. Derek rolled onto his back and, above him, saw the emergency exit door. With the bus lying on its side, the poles that ran vertically along its length were now horizontal. Rather shakily, Derek clambered to his feet, apologising to those who found themselves under the soles of his shoes. Using some of the poles and the still rigidly placed seats as a climbing frame, he was able to reach the door and fling it open.
Derek heaved himself through the narrow doorway with the remaining strength in his arms. A blast of white blinded him before rapidly fading. When all was clear and focused, Derek was met with a curious sight. The articulated lorry sat at a strange angle in the middle of the T-junction. The driver had vacated his cab and was nowhere to be seen. Other vehicles that had been straining to break away from the bonds of the traffic lights were now more than content to stay put. Passers-by, workers from nearby buildings and wandering drivers formed an inquisitive ring around the scene of the accident. Phones were held aloft on fully extended arms. From his vantage point atop the toppled bus, Derek picked out a smattering of strained faces. Hands pointed and waved. But he couldn’t hear anything over the din of the ailing bus. Peering back inside, Derek noted little change.
‘Can anybody hear me?’ he yelled. ‘Can anyone reach up?’
An incomprehensible mass groan floated up toward him, but no hand was forthcoming. Intent on finding professional assistance, Derek cautiously scaled down the exposed underside of the bus. When his feet hit the road, his hands were black with dirt and soot, his face similarly streaked and smudged. The ring of observers remained unbroken. As he began to stumble forward to try and rally some help, Derek could hear the dripping of fluid droplets. He turned over his left shoulder, looking down at the ground. The fuel tank had ruptured. A puddle of petrol had formed on the road beneath the bus. It trailed away from the vehicle back toward the articulated lorry.
‘Oh fuck,’ muttered Derek.
The faces of those gathered at a safer distance were etched with concern. Those who weren’t filming or taking photos were waving their arms at Derek, pleading with him to flee to safety. A crack of indecision split him in two.
While Derek dithered, an errant spark from the damaged engine of the lorry fell into the path of petrol, igniting it. An on-rush of orange surged toward the bus, eating up the trail. With assured haste, Derek pulled down the fly of his trousers and removed his penis. Immediately, he began to urinate on the yet-to-be ignited petrol at his feet. By the time the fire closed in upon the helpless bus, its path had been broken by the urine flowing freely out of Derek. When he had finished, the fire was safely isolated from the still leaking fuel tank and simply burnt itself out.
Derek sheepishly shook his penis and placed it back inside his trousers. He looked around, scratching his head, before beginning his walk toward the onlookers. As he approached, a few handclaps rippled amongst them. Within seconds, however, everybody was applauding and cheering fervently. A few men broke ranks and rushed toward him, placing their arms protectively around his shoulders.
‘You’re a hero, mate,’ crowed the man to Derek’s left.
‘No, please,’ replied Derek, grimacing. ‘They need help – get some help – ’
‘Move, please, make way,’ demanded the man on the right, as congratulatory hands pattered down on Derek’s back. ‘Move aside for the bus hero.’
‘No, God, not hero, no’, mumbled Derek.
The crowd parted and bustled, but the pace was slow. People jumped out and posed for selfies with this sooty, confused, urine speckled hero.
‘Someone call – ambulance – fire brigade,’ Derek rambled.
The clapping and whooping continued, only deepening his frown.
‘We love you!’ came a bellow from behind.
‘You’re a hero, mate, a hero.’ shouted a man, mere millimetres from Derek’s face.
On they crawled, finally breaking free of the crowd. The sound of sirens mercifully pierced the air, drawing some relief to Derek’s features. His legs began to buckle and he was steadily lowered to the kerb. From his hunched and slouched position, all Derek could see were shoes and legs gathered in groups before him.
‘Did he really take his cock out and pee on the fire?’ a nearby woman asked of another witness.
‘Yeah, I got it on camera,’ came the reply. ‘I’ve already uploaded it. He’s the bus hero.’
‘Nah,’ came a sneering interjection, ‘he’s the pissman.’
About the Author
Robert Stimpson is a writer of short stories and novels from Crawley, West Sussex. He has a background in teaching, having done so in South Korea and Australia.