“It was free!” the man opposite me exclaimed. No warning; an otherwise silent bus journey. “Can you believe it?” he continued, his index finger pointing at the shelving unit beside him. The bus rode over a bump in the road, and the finger jerked in the air before retreating to the man’s thigh.
“Oh really?” I replied, politely feigning surprise. As a matter of fact, I could believe it. The unit was quite battered, with the oak-effect veneer peeling off the shelving edges in places.
“Yes! I was just browsing a dog-lovers forum and there it was, out of the blue: someone offering a free set of shelves. Only three miles away. The post had been up for forty-three minutes too! I couldn’t believe my luck — how had no one replied?” His eyebrows raised. A glint appeared in his eyes. I raised my own eyebrows in response, and nodded, though I can’t be sure I matched that glint.
A few minutes earlier I had watched the stranger, dressed in casual clothes, struggle with the unit as he hauled it with him on to the bus. He’d leant on it as he fumbled for change in his trouser pocket to pay the driver. I have to admit, I had been curious about the man.
“Pretty lucky.” I offered, creasing a smile into my cheeks. “I guess you never know what you could find on a web forum!”
His demeanour shifted. The thick brow above his eyes wrinkled. It was as though he remembered something nasty he had eaten. “Oh, but did you hear about the little dog’s head that was found on a door handle in that village nearby?” he said, his head slowly shaking side to side.
“I did.” I said, “horrible business. How could someone do such a thing?” I paused, recalling another item of news . “And just this morning another dog was found near my house, cut in half. What’s wrong with people?”
The man slapped the top of his shelves. He started to turn red. “Those bastards.” The bus stopped at a light. A buzzing became audible, and the quiet melody of La Cucaracha played. “Oh, that’s me!” he said, and reached into his jacket pocket. Not paying much attention to the call, I turned to look out the window. A fine mist covered the town, and it was quieter than usual for a Sunday afternoon. My ears pricked up at the urgency in his voice. “Which hospital?” I turned to look at him. The colour now drained from his face. “I’m nearby. I’ll go straight there.” he said, tumbling over his words as he stood up. He staggered down the aisle, wobbling as he went and crashed into the metal pole beside the driver. His voice raised, “You have to stop. I need to get off.” he said, and the driver must’ve seen something in his face, because he immediately applied the brakes. The front door of the bus whooshed open, and the man sprinted across the street.
My stop was the end of the bus route. I was about to get off when the driver stopped me. “You ain’t leaving that there.” He motioned to the shelving unit.
. . .
“So, that’s why I have this shelving unit.” I finished.
“Huh,” Vanessa said. She paused, tapping her finger nails on the table beside the remnants of her meal. “It’s still a piece of shit though.”