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Bus Journey to Paradise

Bus Journey to Paradise

Written by: Steve Hill, (Psychology, 1978)                                     

I’m about to enter paradise. 

Blame my grandfather.

He first took me there."Drink it all in," he’d said. "But not the lake, of course. To drink the lake would be unwise. Look around you. Education is the key to a better life. We must ensure that you gain ingress to this hallowed place."

I’m five minutes away. 

Eternities ago he’d got it into his head that it would be ‘a fine idea’ to board a ship with his wife and head for the Bowels of England, as called the Midlands. He intended to put down roots in a place called The Meadows where apparently wild crocuses bloomed. "Crocuses", he’d reassured his young bride. "They are a source of saffron and saffron is a source of wealth. We shall pick the stamens until our fingers and thumbs have turned to gold. We shall be rich." 

I’m seated on the bus, making my way to the university campus. 

Sadly, the guide book he’d read was over a hundred years old and some changes had occurred. Grandfather was disappointed to find that there was no sign of any crocuses and not much grass, either. 

"At least there are plenty of houses," he’d told his wife. "Houses are a source of occupants and occupants are a source of wealth. We shall open a shop, instead."

I have my rucksack on my lap. 

He’d offered an assortment of foodstuffs that all seemed to be past their best. His wife was dead within a year of having arrived. The cold and damp played their part but cooking the leftovers that even the locals thought beyond redemption will not have helped.

Grandfather was soon married to a local woman. She was as rough as anything, but she worked hard and she was of childbearing age, which was what mattered most to grandfather. No one else would have married her, but that didn’t stop the locals taking umbrage at the idea of my grandfather purloining one of their own. The couple were forever mending the smashed windows or scrubbing away the unwholesome graffiti. "Not to worry," grandfather used to say. "People are all right when you get to know them. It’s just the alcohol talking." 

If it was truly the alcohol behind all the graffiti, then alcohol needed to brush up on its spelling. 

The woman opposite me is eyeing me warily.

My grandmother bore three kids. One of them was my father. He was bullied relentlessly at school, called a ‘piece of shit’.

"Not to worry," grandfather would say. "Excrement is generally left to its own devices." Except that shit never has the shit kicked out of it in the school changing rooms.

The bus is making its way up the Derby Road. 

"You have choices," grandfather used to say. "You can fight fire with fire or you can pour oil on troubled waters." But what about pouring oil on fires, especially troubled fires? That’s surely got something to recommend it.

I’m nervous. I can feel myself breaking out into a sweat.

My father was too meek for his own good. Just like grandfather. Father only had one true friend at school. She felt alone, too, and although she was white, they used to bully her when they’d tired of giving my father a kicking. 

The woman is looking twitchy now but she doesn’t say a thing. 

They ended up being married to one another. So that makes me a quarter Asian and three-quarters white, though I inherited my paternal grandfather’s looks. We can blame him for that, too.

I reach into the rucksack and slowly withdraw a Tupperware box, careful not to dislodge the contents that were placed there with so much care and attention.

My mother told me a story about revenge. Her father was a philanderer and my maternal grandmother had had enough. She got her own back by feeding him pet food every night, heavily disguised in casseroles and such like. If he was going to behave like a stray dog, humping anything that moves, then he deserved to eat like one. His breath stank like a dog’s but he was none the wiser. There was some satisfaction to be had in that. 

The moral of the tale was that revenge is a dish best served not cold but nicely warmed and heavily seasoned. The sting in the tale is that when he found out, he beat her up so badly that a restraining order was issued and he slunk off like the cur he was.

The woman’s eyes widen, but still she doesn’t speak.

I was an only child. My mother was too anaemic to take to childbearing in a big way. As I grew up, I got used to being abused for the fact I was different, but I got my head down, studied hard, passed my exams. Despite everything.

Then I snap open the lid and the woman jerks involuntarily.

"Go in with a bang, not a whimper," my grandfather advised me. "You are a crocus among thistles." My grandfather was always able to smile in the face of adversity. He should have had more fight. Like my maternal grandmother. She had spirit. 

I withdraw a samosa from the container and relish the explosion of flavours on my tongue. Then I hold the Tupperware box out and offer the woman one. 

It was my grandfather who taught my mother how to make the most wondrous samosas. He takes the credit for that. Curried lamb and not a hint of any dog food. Love wrapped in a samosa-shaped parcel. 

I smile at the woman on the bus. 

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