“Do you d-d-d-do that at home?”
I opened my eyes. The world in which I’d previously been interacting faded to grey, the dream I’d been embroiled in beginning to disappear into a fog of confusion as it was replaced by reality. Don‘t you just hate it when that happens?
An odd dream (I was chasing a dog named Higgs across a field but it felt like there was a huge rubber band slowing me down) disturbed by an old man employing his walking stick to tap my foot. A foot which, along with the untapped foot at the end of my other leg, was resting on the seat facing mine.
“I was asking if you would put your dirty feet all over the furniture at home.” He tapped my foot again and smiled.
“Sorry.” This time without the question mark, “Here…” I leaned forward as I took my training shoe clad feet from the seat and, having given the upholstery a couple of slaps with his hand in a half-arsed attempt to clean it, the old man sat.
“Thank you.” He opened the small, leather satchel he carried and withdrew a pair of spectacles and a currant bun. I wriggled my way more upright in my seat and shivered.
“Déjà vu.” I said.
“Yes, sorry about that.”
“Sorry?” He raised his eyebrows quizzically.
“Did I? You’ll have to excuse me, I get confused. It’s old age, you see. Comes to us all, if we’re lucky.” His smile faltered as he gazed out of the window dreamily.
The train we were on was approaching the next station and some of our fellow passengers were climbing to their feet, making their way toward the doors eager to disembark. A large lady in a heavy, blue coat placed her hand on the back of the seat adjacent to the old man just as the driver began to apply the brakes. Her backward momentum now reduced, she staggered, hand slipping from the seat.
“Ooops.” She exclaimed as she successfully, if not gracefully, managed to remain upright. She smiled at me, appearing a little embarrassed by her unsteadiness, straightened her collar and continued on by.
“Do you know how an elephant asks for a bun?” The old man asked me as he took a bite from the bun he held.
He lifted a shoulder to a cheek and lazily wafted his hand back and forth.
“Can I have a bun, please?” He said, the arm movement now clearly some kind of representation of a pachyderm’s trunk. Some jokes are so bad you just have to laugh and so I did just that as I shook my head.
“So, young man, where are you headed?”
“Manchester, I’m going home for my brothers wedding.” I replied as the train came to a halt.
“Yourself?” I inquired, feeling I had to ask since he’d asked me.
“To Hell in a handcart.” He smiled.
“That's a long way to travel.”
“I suppose so, though we're probably closer than you think.” His words ended as the urgent beep, beep, beep of the automatic doors signaled the beginning of the next leg of my journey.
“Tell me, young man, do you have the time?”
I took my phone from my jacket pocket and glanced at the screen.
“Ten to twelve.”
“Exactly ten to twelve?”
“Eleven fifty one, actually.”
“Thank you.” He opened his satchel and took out another pair of spectacles, looking up at me.
“Would you like a bun?”
“No, thank you.”
“You’re sure? They’re remarkably good buns.”
“I’m sure.” I smiled.
“Did you ever buy a hot cake?”
“I, no, I don’t think I have.”
“No one ever does, so then something “selling like hot cakes” should mean something no one buys, surely?”
“I suppose it should.”
“Mind you, if you count a bun as a cake then there are always hot cross buns, so maybe it means something that sells well for a certain period of the year and then bugger all until next Easter.”
I smiled and nodded as I began to regret not bringing any reading material with me.
“Tickets, please.” Came the voice of the conductor as he entered our carriage. I stood up and rummaged through my hold all, stashed overhead, retrieving my wallet.
“Thank you.” The conductor smiled as he inspected my ticket and scribbled a squiggle on it. He looked over at the old man, busily stuffing another bun into his mouth.
“You saw mine last time.” He spoke, sending crumbs spraying from his lips.
“No, sir, I…”, a look of confusion spread across the conductors face and he paused, “…your ticket, sir?” He smiled at the old man who now took his ticket from his bag and presented it.
“See, you signed it.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Sorry.” He turned back to me. “Your ticket, sir?”
I considered telling him that he’d just inspected my ticket, but it seemed pointless. I held out my hand to present the ticket again but my hand was empty. I searched the floor by my feet.
“I must have dropped it.” I said.
The conductor scribbled his squiggle once more, this time onto the bottom of the fine that he’d issued me with.
“Thank you, sir, enjoy the rest of your journey.” He didn’t smile.
“Do you have the time?” The old man asked again.
“Ten to twelve.”
“Exactly ten to twelve?”
“No, it’s elev…. Oh.” I squinted at my phone. “Erm, actually, yes, exactly ten to twelve.”
“Thank you. Time f-f-for another bun.”
“You’re a fan of buns then?” I smiled.
“Very much un-un-underrated, buns are. Very much. Do you know how an elephant asks for a bun?”
I nodded my head and pressed a shoulder to my cheek.
“Can I have a bun, please?”
“What? What are you doing?”
“Erm, an elephant asking for a bun.”
“Oh,” The old man threw back his head and guffawed. “Ha, yes, brilliant, I’ll have to remember that one.”
And so began my long journey north. A journey of buns, spectacles and deja déjà vu vu.