13 Down: A bit of a fish that comes to your aid, in the end.
Alan hated the crosswords really. Either they were too easy and completely pointless, or they were too hard and made him feel like a moron. Today was different however- this time there was only one clue to go. 7 letters.
The neon digits on his wristwatch informed him that the bus was late. He clasped his wrist with his other hand to protect the watch from the rain. He needn’t have bothered, the weather was little more than an irritation and the watch was cheap and waterproof to a depth of six feet. Last year his then-girlfriend had bought him a nice timepiece, but at first he hadn’t worn it for fear of damaging such a precious gift and now it brought back too many unpleasant memories. Its batteries had run out now anyhow.
The anatomy of fish was not a subject on which Alan was well versed. Tail? Probably not, lots of animals have tails. Alan didn’t really understand cryptic crosswords, you could have the answer, but unless you understood every facet of the puzzle you might never even know. He looked around: the woman had arrived. She caught the bus every day and Alan recognised the tinny racket from her headphones as it cut through the pitter-patter of the rain on the bus shelter. Alan couldn’t help but sneak a glance as she hurried past him to huddle under the optimistically named shelter, although he already knew what he’d see. She was slim, blonde and attractive, dressed in a smart suit and skirt everything about her oozed confidence and satisfaction. She noticed he was staring and smiled at him; a smile that made him love and hate her in equal measure. Scale? Could be. Now she was here, as if on cue, so was the bus.
Inside the bus was the bus driver, proudly presented as Gary by his grimy badge. Gary was a large, sweaty, balding man who was far too interested in the other customer’s admittedly impressive receding form to care too much about Alan or his fare. “Good morning!” Alan proffered, to no avail. A few seconds, an hour’s wages and a gruff nod later, Alan was on the bus.
Alan liked to sit at the back; it was the best place for people watching. Today there were only four people on the bus: Alan, the beautiful girl, an old man and a schoolboy. The old man appeared to be asleep, and the schoolboy was playing a video game and kicking the chair in front.
What comes to your aid? Alan thought, brushing his sodden hair from his eyes as the bus pulled out of the stop. An ambulance? Too long. The old man jolted awake from the sudden acceleration, coughing gutturally. His breathing was ragged and he sounded in pain. Alan thought about going up to the old man and helping him. Maybe the pretty girl would see and think how thoughtful and kind he must be! No. That’s stupid. She’s just wants to get to work and he’s just got a cold. The man made a strange whimpering noise. What comes to your aid? Not me this time old friend. The internal joke was surprisingly depressing. Alan balked at the sight of such age and infirmity. He didn’t like to think about his own mortality, but he couldn’t help but sympathise. Who will mourn me when I’m gone?
Family? Maybe. Still a bit long. Alan peered out of the window as they crawled past his house. He couldn’t help but notice the pointlessness and futility of this moment. He chuckled under his breath and then went a bright red as the woman gave him a funny look. Friend? Maybe. Damn it! She thinks I’m weird. Just some odd stranger on the bus who can’t afford to drive to work. It’s pathetic really.
As the lights changed and the bus set off again Alan was beset by a feeling of lack of control. The bus would take him to work whether he liked it or not. He mulled over the idea of just getting off at a random stop, but what would he do for the day? He had to get to work. His job was the one constant in his life, without that he would be in free fall.
A buzzing interrupted his train of thought. Alan checked his phone and instantly wondered why he had bothered. Sure enough, the girl’s face was illuminated by the incoming message on her mobile. No doubt from some admirer or other. Of course it wasn’t his phone; he never got texts. He knew he was being embarrassingly self-pitying, but it was irritating all the same.
The bus drove on, threading through the countryside on its normal route, swept up in a tide of angry commuters. Condensation adorned the windows, lazily dripping down to pool on the overworked heaters by the seats. In the end.
Something changed. He had the answer. Alan stood up, holding on to the hand rail with one hand and the newspaper and pen with the other. “A bit of a fish,” He said, stepping towards the old man. The others had turned to look at him now, videogame paused, phone momentarily forgotten, swivelling in their seats. “That comes to your aid,” he continued as he reached the old man’s seat, standing over him and looking down. He could smell his nervousness, his pain, his frailty. The girl had her phone raised again and pointed at him. “In the end,” he finished, driving the ballpoint pen into the old man’s chest. The old man just looked surprised and then simply stopped living.
They were screaming now. The girl fumbled with her phone desperately trying to dial with shaking hands. The boy was crying, incapable of anything else. Gary stopped the bus but Alan was on him, fingers round his throat as he slowly faded away. He was surprisingly weak for such a big man.
There was a moment of calm as the bus sat perfectly still in the middle of the road. Nothing moved. The three remaining passengers just looked at each other. Then the horns began, other impatient drivers with places to be and infinitely important things to do. Alan picked up the boy and launched him bodily through a window, backpack and all.
Finally, Alan stepped up to the girl and looked her in the eye, pen in hand. “Finally,” he said, with a satisfied sigh. He walked on past her and sat back in his seat – it was the best for people watching. That was a good crossword.