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The Bus Journey

This is a true story written when I was much younger, a journey full of emotional changes.

Farewell

As I struggled towards the open side door of the car to release my luggage and backpack onto the backseat, I hear the front door creak with the sounding of footsteps, familiar voices and the aroma of toast, salted porage and coffee filling the morning air. I smiled affectionately, it was the people of Braziers who had come out onto the porch to see me leave. I off-load quickly and return for the final kisses, hugs and handshakes.

Eventually, I return to the car where the co-ordinator of this great place is waiting to take me to my first destination. As the car departs, the loose stones from the gravel clatter against the undercarriage - a final drumbeat to the fond farewells from my well-wishers.

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One Love, One Heart

Two and a half miles later, Crowmarsh Gifford and the red bus stop. The co-ordinator sounds his horn and the cough of the exhaust pipe disappears into the background. I pull out my personal stereo and a Bob Marley tape and whilst I wait for the coach I listen to 'One Love, One Heart'.

The coach pulls up and the hydraulic door opens. The driver asks for my destination to which I reply Warrington. He takes my luggage and a short moment later he returns for my ticket to which he mundanely tears a page off, depositing the rest in my hand.

I look for an empty seat, averting my eyes from the faces of strangers as I proceed up the aisle. A moment later, seated, I feel the tear of one world being left behind me as I move towards the other - one hundred and eighty miles away.

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Urban Glamour

The road is dishevelled and it is not long before my stomach is resonating to the same unhealthy beat of the engine. Ashtrays jut grotesquely, permanently mutated from previous journeys. The scenery, however compensates me; baize green fields of cattle and sheep grazing, with trees and shrubbery bursting with the promise of spring. They merge together peacefully until I drift off to sleep.

A dreamed pterodactyl wakes me up: the brakes of the bus are screeching to a halt. With half-gathered thoughts I look out of the window. The once baize green fields are replaced by sombre grey walkways, towering skyscrapers and back to back terraced housing. The gloomy mood of the city is reflected in the sky which is getting blacker and blacker; the jostling sounds of the traffic and pedestrians echoes their concerns as those who can seek shelter do so under shop entrances and umbrellas.

I put the light on and finger comb my hair straight. The traffic light turns green and the downpour begins. Within minutes, the streets are awash with hammering rain, little streams racing along, towards the gutters, carrying the city's grime.

Inside the coach station, the resonating sounds of waiting engines can be heard amidst those of shouting voices and Tannoy announcements. The smells of the adjoining cafe threatens to overpower those of the diesel fumes, my stomach rumbles in expectation. I stay on the coach and settle down to some beef with horse radish sauce sandwiches while I wait for the driver to have his customary cigarette and loud bated gab with the other drivers.

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Three Little Birds

Twenty minutes later and a few passengers more we eventually set off, grateful cries are cast and undignified cheering. An elderly red-haired woman has taken the seat next to me. She makes a comment about having to be kept waiting too; I agree with her and stuff the crumpled ball of silver paper that had been used to wrap my sandwiches into the malformed ashtray. Ten minutes later we eventually leave the city of Birmingham behind via a procession of electric cables dangling down like heavy vines. The woman next to me has started conversation, firstly about the weather and then...we hit the motorway.

Stoke-on-Trent coach station. The woman who was next to me has decided to talk to her husband, who is seated a couple of rows back. I sigh in relief and when I look out of the window, I see three pigeons scrapping over a large chunk of bread. I laugh while I watch them claw, scratch and peck at each other when they could be sharing it peacefully. I then realise that my own wanted solitude was selfish too. I turn around to see that the woman has retaken her seat beside me. I ask her how old her daughter is (who she has already told me so much about), she smiles, offers me a sweet which I accept, and then recommences her earlier conversation. A glint of light squeezes out of the heavy sky.

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Exodus

We pull into the service depot of Stoke Bus Station, the engine has overheated. We are being moved to another coach. I help the woman carry some of her bags. The main luggage we are told will be following us. More clouds have dissipated but grey masses still remain evident, reflecting the state of the forecourt below with its mottled puddles of diesel, grease and oil. We step carefully in between them, weaving towards the new and cleaner coach that awaits us. Twenty minutes later, the driver releases his handbrake and catapults his dying cigarette out of the window, it sizzles on the forsaken forecourt, releasing a final gasp of smoke.

Warrington, the final destination, its last stages before my disembarkation takes me through what was once familiar territory. However, shops have gone and some have come, trying to remember what was there and what is new is racking my memories. I remember very little but I realise there has been changes. The area has built up more and the town has commercially widened. It is not unattractive and it is neither pleasing in the rural sense of the Oxfordshire countryside I left behind. I brace myself as the coach comes to its resting place under the glass canopy of the sunlit bus station. I wait for my bags to be unloaded and as I do so I consider this urban town that served me so well before is ready for more of me and more exploration.

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Author's notes

Some may have noticed I have paid tribute to the great Reggae artist, Bob Marley, whose music so reflected my emotions.

If you would like to read more of The Blagsmith, why not enjoy some of my Japanese folktales which are also supplied with my wife's illustrations.