Thursday, 16 April 2009

Folio 3 ~ The Magic of Words and Pillar Boxes

The city looked wonderful dressed in its spring clothes. The sun hugged the sugar brown walls and made them smile. Birds perched on the teetering roof tops and sang to the tiny racing clouds. After a little while, Caroline remembered the pocket watch that the strange man had given to her in the park and she took it out and polished its big friendly face and put it to her ear. It was still silent and the thin second hand (with a little curly wave at the end) remained as still as a heron’s beak. She wound it up. It made a loud whirring noise; the same sort of noise that you get when you run a furled umbrella along metal park railings. It was so loud the bus driver turned in his seat and glowered and so Caroline hurriedly put the watch back in her pocket and concentrated upon looking out of the window.

People got on and people got off the bus and Caroline watched the city pass by outside. And then, on one corner, she noticed that a man was selling little toys made from old tin-cans. He wore a sky-blue coat (with tails) and a top hat and he had a wooden stall which could be pushed along on pram wheels. As the bus passed, he looked up at Caroline and then pointed down a little alleyway (full of cardboard boxes and splintered wooden crates) which was beside his little stall. Caroline peered down it and on the end wall, painted in large white letters, were the words, GET OFF AT... Caroline wiped the window, where she had huffed (when the driver was looking the other way), to get a better view.

‘Why would anyone want to write ‘get off at…’ on a wall?

'How odd!’ she thought

... and then she thought, ‘how wonderful.’

The bus drove on and more people got on and a young mother, carrying a big bag of shopping and a baby that looked like a hedgehog, got off. Then, on the next corner, there was the man in the sky-blue tail coat selling tin-can toys again! Once again he looked up, saw Caroline and pointed down an alleyway. Caroline leaned forward, her nose pressed against the glass (which made the driver glare at her). This time, at the end of the alleyway, there was another message which read, … THE NEXT

‘I wonder what the ‘the next' will be?’ she thought. She looked around at the others on the bus. No one else saw. No one else was looking. People were reading the paper, knitting, texting on the telephones. Everyone was living in their small little worlds and none of them realised that somewhere outside something marvellous was about to happen.

‘Well,’ thought Caroline, pulling up her socks (because they had slipped down her feet and balled up under her instep in her boots - which is what happens when you wear socks and gumboots), ‘wherever it says I should get off, I will get off and have an adventure. Perhaps, it will take me somewhere that will mend my watch and give it back its taste for time, for this is like a dream, only it’s much better than a dream because I can huff on windows and snuffle my nose whenever I want to and you can’t always do that in a dream because you end up turning into an owl or a wardrobe or something.’

After three more stops, Caroline once more recognised the man with the tin-can toys. This time he was standing under a big umbrella with stars painted on it and selling a tin-can soldier toy to a little boy and his mother. He stood up and, once again, pointed to an alleyway. This time the words said, PILLAR BOX!!

'Get off at the next pillar box!’ Caroline repeated to herself.

And so Caroline wiped the rest of the huff off the window, for she was a polite young girl and she knew that grown-ups very rarely like to sit next to a bus window that has been huffed upon, and she got up and walked down the bus to the driver.

“I would like to get off at the next pillar box please,” she announced to the driver.
The driver puffed out his bottle-brush moustache.
“Pillar box?” he asked
“Yes, please. I would like to get off at the very next pillar box, if you don’t mind.”
“Pillar boxes are for letters and for parcels that are thin enough to squidge through the slot. Bus stops are for people and for little girls what wear gumboots and summer dresses,” retorted the bus driver unhappily, “You, missie are a young lady what wears rubber gumboots and a summer dress and h’is not, so far as I am aware, h’ay letter or a parcel – squidgey or h’otherwise. H’it is most h’regular for a bus to stop at a pillar box. What will all my passengers say h’if I start stopping at all the pillar boxes I pass?”

Caroline looked at the passengers on the bus. It did not seem likely that any of them would say anything. It did not seem likely that any of them would even notice. Then she had an idea.
“Well I think,” she said looking at the driver carefully, “that my 50 pence worth of a bus ride will run out at the next pillar box, don’t you?”
The bus driver glanced at Caroline with baleful eyes.
“Well it’s all very h’regular, young madam,” he said, his face creased in misery and his great watery eyes looking as sad as mountain mist, “ever since I heard the thwapping of your boots missie, I knew that things would be becoming all h’regular.”
“Yes,” said Caroline cheerfully and snuffling up the end of her nose with the back of her hand, “I always seem to have that effect on things.”
The bus driver sighed and said, “Odd.”
“Yes,” Caroline agreed, “but rather wonderful too.”
“Huuuuummmmmmp” said the bus driver who was not convinced that it was rather wonderful at all.

However, beside the very next bus stop that they came to was a bright red pillar box and Caroline, who was swinging on the handrail that helped little old ladies climb the bus steps and trying desperately not to huff on the bus driver’s shiny uniform buttons, let out a cry of excitement.
“Easy does it.” Grunted the bus driver as he drew into the little lay-by.

With a swishing hiss, the bus stopped and the doors swung open. With a hop and skip (well as much of a hop and a skip that big rubber gumboots will allow) Caroline leaped down from the bus without touching any of the steps.

The bus driver grunted, “Most h’regular, alighting in gumboots without using the steps therefore provided for the purpose of.”

It didn’t quite sound right, so he added another "of" at the end, but it didn’t sound any better.

With that, he pressed the large red button and the doors closed with a terrific whooshing sneeze.

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