Public Transport By D.I. Jolly
Of all the ways to get around the city, the one Marvin hated the most, was the bus. But not for the reasons that most people hated the bus. In fact, as a younger man he’d liked the inefficiency of buses. Getting stuck in traffic gave him more time to think, and he was just happy knowing he was on his way.
No, his hatred came when, one morning while sitting quietly and staring out the window, he heard a soft voice behind him say the worlds.
“I need to trouser sneeze.”
He then watched as the man walked up to a woman, undid his pants and started masturbating. Luckily for Marvin, and everyone else, the driver quickly clocked on to what was happening and before any of the passengers needed to get involved, the man had his head slammed into a handrail and then the door, before being hauled off and kicked a few more time. All the while muttering to himself, almost innocently.
“It’s just a sneeze, it’s just a sneeze.”
And although what Marvin had witnessed was sexual assault followed by physical assault, the part that struck him, the part that stayed with and haunted him, was the phrase ‘trouser sneeze.’ He thought about it whenever he got on a bus, saw a bus, saw a bus stop, heard people talking about buses. It followed him like a ghost living in the attic of his mind, ready to pop out at every opportunity and send a cold shiver down his spine. And as he walked in the rain and darkness trying to avoid having to take the bus, and avoid thinking about that phrase, he found himself thinking of it anyway. As the act of trying to avoid it was reminder enough.
His therapist had for months been trying to guide him through to the realisation that the phrase was a distraction from what he’d actually witnessed, but Marvin wasn’t ready to face up to that yet. In his heart of hearts he knew it was true, but as disturbing to him as ‘trouser sneeze’ was, it was still easier to handle than the truth. Even if that meant getting sick by walking in the rain. Which is exactly what happened. He wasn’t many things, but he was very stubborn, and despite the cold, he continued to avoid buses, and as winter crept into the city, and into his bones he continued to walk. Until, in the middle of a workday, he erupted into a coughing fit so strong that he wasn’t able to take a breath for over a minute. So by the time his almost blue face hit the floor and he finally gasped in a breath, he also tasted the blood from his lungs, and then passed out.
He awoke in a hospital, felt the drugs swimming through his veins, and heard his medical doctor talking to his phycological doctor and wondered who in his office could have called them. Then he thought about how colds were supposed to make people sneeze not cough, then he thought about ‘trouser sneeze’, and then buses, and as the drugs held his mental blocks at bay, a vision of the fear on the woman’s face rushed through his mind, then the man’s face as it hit the rail in front of him, and a cracking sound that he prayed wasn’t bone filled his ears. He’d turned away after he saw the first kick to the man’s face from the bus driver, but could still hear the meaty wet thump and the strangled gurgling whimpers.
“It’s just a sneeze, it’s just a sneeze.”
The images and sounds filled his mind and he retched and coughed again, but this time vomit spilt out along with the blood and the tears. Machines around him started to beep and alarms bells rang, but he couldn’t tell if they were real or just in his imagination, until people in white and green and blue appeared to put their soothing hands on him and he felt another rush of chemicals which turned the world black.
The next time he opened his eyes he saw his sister sitting near him looking worried. The time after that it was his brother in law with his mother. A different family member every time, but never his father and he wondered idly through the haze if he was dying. Until the morning he opened his eyes again and found no family member there waiting, just his therapist who smiled kindly and waited for a few minutes before explaining that he was going to be just fine, that everything was going to be much better and easier now. He was going to be looked after properly this time. They moved him from the bed, to a wheelchair, put him in a nice soft, slightly too large jersey and wheeling him down the hall to a new part of the hospital where he would get to stay for awhile, and be safe. And as his doctor explained how he was going to be treated he let his vision and concentration turn to a timid looking man who stood in the corner and muttered to himself.
“It’s just a sneeze.”