by Jim Sellers
CHAPTER NINE | FIXING THE SITUATION
Every morning after that, when the bus doors opened to reveal Danielda with her big, friendly smile, the driver scowled and looked away.
He hates me, just like everyone else, she would think as she took her usual place in the center of the bus. She no longer enjoyed the ride. She didn’t watch the people or listen to the old man muttering. She hardly read, just watched the street roll by through the dirty windows. She realized that the driver no longer crunched on candies. When he stopped for his break halfway to her school, he smoked.
See what you’ve done, she accused herself.
This went on for weeks. It was almost too much for Danielda, she had to do something. Her imagination began to grind until she thought out a plan to fix the mess she’d made. It came to her in crafts class—the perfect idea—as she looked at ideas for a Mother’s Day project. It was a pen, not just a writing tool but a beautiful pen. She would get a really nice one and decorate it by hand with World’s Best Bus Driver inscribed along the side in bright blue lettering. That would do the trick. She started her pen project along with her Mother’s Day present, which meant she had to work twice as hard and twice as fast.
Danielda looked around for a nice pen, something of quality that would write nicely. But they cost more than 20 dollars, so she ended up stuck with one of the cheap pens from school. That was fine. She would just work harder on the decorations.
The difficulty was she had other things to do. She had to study for tests, do her science projects and her report on Canadian history. She ended up working late in her room each night after her mother went to bed. This made her tired, and cranky. Once in crafts class she accidentally glued the M backwards on her Mother’s Day card and burst into tears. The teacher was astonished, and confused.
“It’s a backwards M, Danielda. It still looks the same.”
“No it doesn’t,” Danielda wailed.
The day didn’t get any better. She wasn’t able to finish her math test, her book reports had spelling mistakes and her history of Canada had the wrong dates. She was working on only four hours of sleep that day. Everyone seemed to be annoying her, including her friend, Lorinda.
“I thought you were going to call me last night,” Lorinda closed her locker, an angry look in her green eyes directed towards Danielda.
“I’m sorry.” Danielda didn’t look up from her locker. She tore through her books, looking for something. “I was studying and trying to finish my Canadian history report. I was too busy for girl-talk on the phone.”
“You asked me to help you with your report. You were going to call me so I could help you. I waited until nine o’clock because I said I would.” Lorinda glared at her. “Don’t talk to me ever again.”
As Lorinda stormed off, Danielda had a guilty feeling. She remembered that she had asked Lorinda for help, and forgot to call. Then she felt fearful. Was she losing control of her life?
Finally, her work was finished. Both craft projects were done. She rewrote her Canadian history report and convinced her teacher to let her retake the math test, which she aced. Things felt okay again and soon she would make things better with the bus driver. Finally, she could sleep, which she did, like a baby every night until the day she was to give the bus driver his gift.
CHAPTER TEN | MAKING THINGS BETTER
That day was Monday, the first in May. She had hoped the day would be sunny and warm, but it turned out to be more like winter than spring. Grey clouds covered the city and the wind was cold. Determined to make the day turn out right, Danielda wore her prettiest dress and brushed her teeth extra-long to make sure she’d have the sunniest face possible.
Time seemed to crawl by very slowly. It didn’t help that her mother was tired because she’d been up most of the night working on a big presentation. Her slow speed frustrated Danielda.
“Don’t do this today, not today,” Danielda grumbled to herself as she cleaned her breakfast dishes and packed her lunch. Finally, after changing her mind three times about what to wear, her mother went for a shower. Danielda groaned with relief and sprang into action. She pulled out a box, some tissue paper and the gift pen she’d made. She carefully stuffed the box with tissues to protect the pen from being crushed. She paused, just for a moment, to look at it. The pen was so beautiful with its decorations and the blue lettering. She turned it over and noticed how the light reflected through the pen’s transparent sides. She put it in the box, carefully covered it and closed the lid. She tucked it in the front pocket of her bag. She was done. Nothing left but to give it to the bus driver.
Her mother was still in the bathroom and it was getting late. Danielda wanted to make sure not to miss her bus so she grabbed her coat and called through the door.
“I’m going Mom, see you.”
“Wait, I was going to give you a ride,” her mother said.
“No, it’s okay, I can walk. Bye, love you.” She said as she closed the door behind her.
The wind had a cold, wet bite to it that blew through her cloth gloves. Danielda stood at the bus stop with a fixed seriousness on her face. She would not, she promised herself, get foolish and start begging for forgiveness. That would lose the effect of the gift. She wanted to look responsible, and mature.
She had to be serious.
When the bus pulled up, Danielda got on with everyone else. She didn’t even look at the driver; she didn’t want to see his frown. She kept her eyes on ahead and walked straight to her seat. As the bus drove on, she waited. No reading, no looking around, she was on a mission.
Gradually, the bus emptied. After a while, the driver pulled over for his break. In exactly three minutes he would come back on, smelling of cigarette smoke. He always took a moment to settle in, check his watch and change the transfers before he drove on. That’s when she would spring into action.
He finished his cigarette and climbed back into his seat. He probably saw Danielda walking toward him in the mirror. She was halfway up the aisle when the bus started moving. She had to hang on to the seat to keep from falling. When she regained her balance, she kept walking. Soon, she stood next to the driver. He glanced and saw her there, looking at him with a serious face.
“I have something for you,” she said.
“What, more poison. You trying to finish me off?” he demanded.
Danielda sighed, “That was an accident. I was trying to be nice. I wasn’t trying to poison you.” She could feel tears welling in her eyes, but she fought them back. She was vaguely aware of the old man moving around behind her.
The driver said, “Little girl, you shouldn’t be standing there talking to me. Go back to your seat now.” He wouldn’t even look at her.
It wasn’t working as she planned. Danielda knew she had to act fast. She quickly pulled the pen from its box and showed it to him. But at that instant he turned the wheel and she lost her balance. She fell back towards the seat behind her, but the old man caught her before she could fall and hurt herself. She looked at the old man, then at the pen. The fall had bent it. It was ruined. All of her work, all of the time and all of her best intentions were wasted. The stupid thing broke and no one cared.
She sat on the seat next to the old man and started to cry. The bus driver groaned, pulled the bus to the curb and stepped toward her. Suddenly the old man spoke.
“The little girl wanted to give you a gift, Carl. You didn’t have to hurt her.” The old man’s voice was strangely calming.
The driver looked at the old man with a quick frown, and then looked at the pen. It was bent but not broken. “What’s this, then?”
Danielda wiped her face, sniffed and explained. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I made this for you. See, it says World’s Best Bus Driver. I wanted you to not hate me anymore.”
The old man cleared his throat. This brought a fresh frown from the driver. His gruff face relaxed as he looked at the pen. “It’s very nice. I guess accidents will happen so, let’s forget it, alright? And no more gifts. From now on you just sit down and ride without disturbing me.”
Danielda allowed herself to smile at this. “Okay.” She nodded and walked back to her seat. Everything was okay. She’d put things right. Now things could go back to the way they were. And that’s what happened, for the next 5 minutes.
The pen sat in the driver’s shirt pocket. It looked very nice with its colorful designs, its pipe-cleaner butterfly wings and its shiny letters that changed color when you turned it in the light. As it sat in his pocket, with the sun shining on it through the big window, the pen heated up and started to leak. A small blue dot formed at the bottom of the driver’s shirt pocket. Gradually, it trailed down the front. By the time the driver noticed, the line of ink had flowed like a small river from his pocket to his pants, where it pooled into a large stain. He was covered in ink
“Aw, for the love of—!” The driver quickly pulled the bus to the curb, leaving the door open. Danielda saw the shirt with the blue stain on it as he ran out. She heard the driver yelling as he ran to the store, probably to find a washroom. The old man continued to sit and stare out the window. She picked up her bag and walked off the bus. She walked the rest of the way to school. She walked slowly like someone who had just lost hope, like someone who had lost everything. She felt worse than ever.
She had a lot of time to think as she walked the rest of the way to school. All she wanted was to be liked. She tried to help people and be nice to them and hoped they would be nice to her. Isn’t that the way you’re supposed to be? Isn’t that what makes the world a better place? So why was she always getting in trouble? Why did she always end up being hated, avoided and talked about as if she were a criminal?
For the rest of the week, Danielda did everything she could to avoid seeing that bus driver. On Tuesday, she asked her mother to drive her to school. She said she had to work on a project. The other mornings she missed her regular bus on purpose and caught the next one. This meant she got to school just as the bell rang. It wasn’t like Danielda to be late for class, but she was though, twice.
CHAPTER ELEVEN | GETTING COLD
Danielda tried as hard as she could to avoid catching the bus at the usual time, but she couldn’t afford to be late for school anymore. After three weeks, the day finally came. She waited behind several other people at the stop. When the bus came, she got on with a group of them and flashed her bus pass while she kept walking. She didn’t look at the driver—but she heard him growl as she passed.
The old man remained in his place by the door, but she sat in the back rather than her usual seat, halfway down the aisle. The bus followed its normal route and the people started filing out until she sat alone in the back. Today the ride seemed to be taking twice as long as normal. Danielda tried to think positive thoughts. She thought about the end of school and summer holidays but, when she looked outside, it was raining and miserable. She gave up trying to feel sunny about things. Instead she thought about the past year.
Danielda realized the bus had stopped. It must be time for the driver to have his break. But the driver wasn’t there. They were stopped outside a gas station instead of the usual place. He must have gone in to use the washroom or buy something from the store. Danielda sat back in her seat and waited. Why was he taking so long, and why did he leave the door open? The wind and rain blew in the open back door, right down the aisle and onto her legs. She had worn her light socks because she didn’t like to have sweaty feet at school. But now her legs were cold and her fingers felt numb. The old man snoozed by the open door. Wasn’t he cold? He was just wearing his old bus driver’s uniform. But, maybe he would close the door. There wouldn’t be any harm in asking, would there?
Danielda walked up to the old man and tapped him on the shoulder. “Sir?”
“What!” The old man jumped with surprise.
Danielda hated waking people up. They get startled and then they get angry with you for waking them. Then they deny that they were sleeping, “I’m sorry to wake you sir but I—”
“I wasn’t sleeping, I was just thinking, quietly.”
What was wrong with sleeping? Danielda shrugged, “I’m sorry sir, it’s just that the door’s open and I’m very cold,” she hugged her arms, her teeth were chattering.
“Old! I’m not old! Why you listen here, young lady. I’m as spry as an oyster, strong as an ox, fit as a fiddle! I’m quick as a—” The old man lost track of his thoughts and wandered off into his mind.
That was the other problem with adults, they never listen. She said cold very clearly and she was getting colder. The wind blew harder now and her hands were turning blue. And the old man had gone back to sleep. What the heck!
“What do you want?” he mumbled.
“The door, can you close the door?”
“The door? Sure, it’s that lever by the seat.” Nodding to himself, the old man drifted back to sleep.
Danielda had hoped he would do it, but if he said it was okay, then she would close the door. She’d be extra careful. The lever was to the left of the driver’s seat. It was hard to get at, so she leaned on one knee and reached over the wheel to push it. Still too far. She had to climb up on the seat with both legs, reach over to the lever and push it. The thing wouldn’t budge, but after a few tries it turned and the door closed.
Danielda lost her balance and almost landed face-first on the steering wheel, but she managed to steady herself and push backwards onto to her feet. As she picked herself up, Danielda didn’t hear the distant thunk from the back of the bus, or the slight change in the sound of the motor. She stood up and walked back to her seat, rubbing her arms to warm them.
There is an optical illusion that occurs when you walk inside a bus as it begins to move. If you walk at the same speed as the bus is traveling, the world outside appears to stand still. So Danielda didn’t realize until she sat down that the trees and the stores were slowly moving past. It took another second to register that the street wasn’t moving—the bus was.
And there was no driver.
And, it was probably her fault.
Danielda ran to the front and shook the old man as hard as she could. He jolted.
“Sir, the bus is moving, and – and the driver’s not here.”
“What? Not here? Then you better drive.”
Danielda couldn’t believe what he said but she didn’t question him. She sat in the driver’s seat and held on to the steering wheel. She had steered the car lots of times on her grandfather’s lap, and had driven lots of virtual cars. But this was different. She stared out the window and held the wheel, trying to think of what to do. Step on the brake, of course. Granddad explained how the pedals worked. There was a skinny pedal for the gas and a fat one for the brakes. She looked down and saw there were two identical pedals on the floor. She didn’t know which one to push. Danielda looked over at the old man who sat unmoving in his seat.
“Excuse me, sir, but I really need some help,” she said, glancing at him.
The old man frowned, “Can’t you see I’m thinkin’?”
“Yes sir, I saw but I’m driving a bus and it’s very big.”
“Ah, it’s not so big. You should have seen the double-deckers I drove in London. Now that was a big bus.”
Danielda had no idea what he was talking about but getting into a conversation wasn’t what she wanted, “Can you drive this bus?”
“Can I? Of course, I can drive anything. I’ve been driving since before you were born.”
“I mean, can you drive this bus now?” she was almost yelling at him.
“Nope, they won’t let me.”
“Sir, can you help me? I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Well you should have thought of that before you decided to drive the bus. Fine, I’ll help ya.”
For a moment Danielda thought he was going to take the wheel and she relaxed. The street in front of them was clear. The bus was moving slowly and she had kept it running down the center of the lane so she wouldn’t run into any parked cars. People were walking down the street, completely unaware that there was a young girl driving a bus past them. If they would just look, maybe they would get help. And where was the old man? Danielda looked over and saw he was still sitting, staring out the window.
“Sir? What are you doing?”
“I’m thinkin’. Can you reach the brakes?”
“No, I can’t.”
“I thought not. Fine, what you want to do is keep the white line beside you and beep your horn if anyone gets in the way.”
That seemed easy, but what about the turn coming up ahead? The line started to turn to the left and curve around a corner. Does he know where this road goes? She had no time to think, she turned the big wheel to the left, following the line, and the bus glided around the corner. The old man looked surprised and grabbed at the pole and hung on.
“Oh, a turn eh? You’re learnin’ fast. Okay, straighten ‘er out, c’mon, that’s it.” The old man instructed, “Just keep the line next to you.”
“I have to stop, Sir.”
“But you can’t, can yah? Lean on the horn, that’s it. Heh, heh, this is kinda fun. Just keep her straight.”
What was he talking about, fun? She was going to say she was too young to drive a bus and he had to stop fooling around and take over. At that moment, the road in front of her suddenly fell away.
The quiet street with very little traffic that the bus was slowly rolling down had suddenly turned into a long, steep hill into the center of the city. This road was going to take her straight through downtown.
Danielda screamed as the bus picked up speed.
TUNE IN NEXT SATURDAY FOR PART 4 OF “DANGEROUS DANIELDA” BY JIM SELLERS!