I’d finished work at 1800 and my bus was at 0730. I couldn’t get a lift from the festival in the morning, so I got dropped off in a town I’d never been to. I had a bus to catch and a night to kill.
I was on the outskirts by a dual carriageway. There was no rain and the night was clear. I was four miles from where I needed to be according to Google Maps. I put my backpack on, stacked my tent on top of my duffel bag, picked them up and took the first step. After a four mile walk and some questionable navigating, I found the bus station.
It was darker than I expected. Not that I knew what to expect. I hadn’t done this before. The street lamps either weren’t working or were turned off. I couldn’t see any CCTV cameras. Or people. Or any sign of human activity.
Have you ever seen a bus station at night? They’re desolate. Intimidating. I decided to sleep there.
Out of the three deserted bus shelters, I chose the one that was closest to the road. It was also the most well lit. I thought this was sensible. The other two were tucked down by a dark alley which, I discovered in the morning, led through to the town centre.
There was a foot high gap between the floor and the start of the shelter’s glass pane and it allowed a draft in. I tucked my duffel bag and my tent into the corner of my chosen home to block it up. After wind proofing my accommodation, I climbed into my sleeping bag and snuggled down.
As I slumped there, trying to read, I had a thought. Someone could walk right up to me, start kicking and take everything I have. This made me uncomfortable and even more determined not to fall asleep. As a precaution I took my phone and wallet and keys and placed them at my feet. If anonymous muggers were to attack me, I would have the last laugh. They could take my tent and my bags filled with my dirty kit. But they wouldn’t get what matters most. That was safely enclosed in a sleeping bag.
Still, I felt wary. A night of vigilance lay ahead. I put down my book.
And fell asleep.
I was woken, earlier than I wanted to be, at 0600 by an older man. I didn’t know how long he’d been there. He was waiting for the first bus. As I stirred, he paid me no attention. But I thought he looked embarrassed. Maybe he’d seen me asleep on the ground and didn’t know what to do. Or perhaps he was upset that I’d disturbed his usually tranquil Monday morning wait.
He was focused on something on the other side of the station. I looked over. There was nothing there. No buses, no drivers, no signs. Just a whitewashed concrete wall. Was he looking away and trying not to catch my eye? Like you do when you’re walking and you see someone that you used to be friends with, and make it really obvious that you’re trying really hard to avoid looking at them.
Whatever his story, I didn’t fancy sticking around to unravel it.
I slithered out of my home for the night, packed up my bags and stalked off into town. I had a McDonalds breakfast. I can’t remember what exactly but I had coffee. I can remember how warm it felt when I held the paper cup with both hands.
The morning had a sharp freshness that made my post-breakfast walk back to the station feel like a mid-evening stroll along the banks of the Thames. There were more people now, all caught up in their own worlds, infatuated with their own lives, all hustling down the high street towards their destinations.
At the station it was busy too, unlike the night before. My bus rumbled in. I flashed my ticket, the driver stowed my bags in the hold, and I climbed aboard, ready to be whisked home.
We all have stories. And if we are lucky, we learn something from them.
On the bus, in a seat far less comfortable than the hard pavement I’d spent the night on, I had a thought. No matter what happens I can always survive a night at a bus stop.
And with a smile of deep satisfaction, I allowed the gentle rhythm of the bus to rock me to sleep.