As Caroline ate her breakfast she could hear the birds singing in the garden, and it looked as if they had something to sing about. The only blemish on the blue sky was a white line drawn by a jet. After reading the dog his horoscope and finishing her coffee, she left for work.
The weather didn't bring out the best in the other people waiting at the bus stop, but it seemed to conceal the worst. The woman who used to smoke and cry had given up smoking. The man who normally kept talking on his phone was silent, satisfying himself with sending a text rather than telling a friend about the outrageous lies he told his girlfriend to avoid visiting her parents' house. Caroline always knew when he was talking to his girlfriend because he'd start telling outrageous lies. He once told her that the editor of a newspaper had asked him to stand in for their regular theatre critic, who had to retreat to the country for a few weeks to convince his illegitimate children that he was dead.
As if the day wasn't going well enough already, the bus arrived on time. Tommy, the driver, seemed unusually hurried. Caroline sat next to a window and looked out at the rows of houses and parked cars, the kids on their way to school, the morning sun through the line of trees along the side of the street opposite the hospital, the industrial park where the wall had been adorned with new graffiti: 'Paul loves Amanda' and 'Paul loves Roger Federer' (mixed news for Amanda, whatever her feelings for Paul).
As they approached Caroline's stop there were only six other passengers left on the bus. She appreciated the peace. Neil, the man who'd normally be lying or boasting about his lies on the phone, was still happily texting. She noticed that Tommy was taking a slightly longer route than normal. As he was driving through a housing estate in the suburbs he said, "Does anyone mind if I make a quick stop at home?"
The only passengers who responded were those who said yes, they did mind, but Tommy only seemed to hear the ones who said nothing. He parked the bus outside his house and got out. He jumped over the garden wall, ran across the lawn and disappeared around the back of the house.
After waiting for five minutes, Neil stood up and said, "I have a lot of work to get through today."
Caroline assumed that he was going to leave the bus and walk the rest of the way, but he sat on the driver's seat. She asked him if he'd ever driven a bus before.
"I've driven a tractor," he said, which wasn't the answer she'd been hoping for.
He drove tentatively at first, but the further he went without knocking anyone down or crashing into a parked car, the more confident he became. He started to enjoy it. Rounding corners in large vehicles had never failed to entertain him in the past. Caroline could sense his glee as he approached a roundabout. He picked up speed, but as often happened in large vehicles, he had to take evasive action to avoid crashing, or else he'd just close his eyes. When faced with the danger of crashing into a road sign he managed to steer the bus down the exit before the one he'd been aiming at, and he seemed to have rescued the situation, even though they were going the wrong way, heading out into the countryside. But they weren't going the wrong way for long. They came to a halt when Neil veered too far to the left. The wheels sank into the soft ground at the side of the road, and the bus crashed into a ditch.
A car stopped at the other side of the road and Tommy got out. Neil opened the door to let him into the bus. Tommy was smiling, but the manic glint in his eye would have been visible to the passengers at the back of the bus. It would have been glaringly obvious to Neil, whose eyeballs were in close proximity to those of Tommy. It wasn't a comfortable situation for Neil, but not as uncomfortable as it would be if he was Roger Federer and the other eyes belonged to Paul.
"Do you have any idea how humiliating this is for me?" Tommy said. "I wanted to drive past my house today to see if Liam's car was there, and it was. My worst nightmare. My wife has always denied having an affair with him and I wanted to believe her. But there was his car, and when I went inside I caught them in the act. Now that's a bad way to start the day, you'd think. Things couldn't get much worse than that. Or could they? Some eejit might take your bus and make things much worse. And do you know what made things even worse than that? Liam offered to drive after the bus, and I had no other option. I had to accept a lift from the man I just caught having an affair with my wife. And then I had to drive his car because he wasn't wearing any shoes or socks."
The passengers on the bus looked out at the car. Liam and Tommy's wife were in it. They smiled and waved when the passengers looked at them.
"And to make things even worse than that," Tommy said, "you couldn't even keep the bus on the road, and I'm going to get fired because of this crash. What's going to happen next? That's what I'm wondering. What'll happen to make things worse?"
"I think I know how to make things better," Caroline said. "We'll say that you were driving when the crash happened, and that you had to swerve off the roundabout to avoid a puppy who ran out in front of the bus. And then you drove into the ditch to avoid crashing into a truck."
All of the passengers agreed to go along with this story.
"And maybe there's something you could do about Liam," Caroline said. "Test his nerve by showing him what you're willing to do to Neil in a fake fight."
Neil agreed to play his part. He fell to the floor of the bus when Tommy pretended to punch him. He stayed down as Tommy took a wrench from a toolbox and started hitting a seat near where Neil lay. The other passengers feigned horror and pleaded with Tommy to stop before he killed Neil. The woman who used to cry hid her face in her hands because she couldn't stop laughing.
Caroline saw the horror on Liam's face as he witnessed Tommy's violent reaction and realised that Tommy still had the car keys. He got out of the car and ran away, even though he wasn't wearing any shoes, socks or trousers.
Neil's phone rang while he was still lying on the ground. It was his girlfriend. He told her that he'd have to work late that night to make up for the time he missed in the morning, and unfortunately he couldn't visit her parents. But she hung up before he got to the end of the story about the bus he crashed and the partially-clad man fleeing the scene. She thought he was lying.