In the interests of keeping it green, I bus to work. This frees up my car for Son M to use and I’m happy to oblige; he deserves a break. Each morning I board the bus, hand over the correct money and say, “Into town please’.
Well, normally I do. But this one morning, I said (for some odd reason even I can’t figure out right now,) “One zone please.”
This particular morning the bus driver happened to be a grumpy one. (Have you noticed how bus drivers in the main fall into either of two categories?)
“That’s one dollar twenty,” he said, “You’ve given me one dollar sixty.”
Now right there is where I should’ve realised that it was actually TWO zones into town. But silly me didn’t think to clarify. I just thought, ‘Oh they must’ve changed it - maybe there’s a special rate before ten o’clock or something now.’ That was my big mistake.
A bit farther down the track, the driver suddenly bellows, “Female who paid for one zone gets off here.” Giving a guilty reflexive jolt, I lurch out of my seat, saying, “Oh. That’s me.” Red-faced I'm sure (although I have to say that one of the benefits of ageing for those of us prone to blushing easily, is that you become hardened and hardly blush anymore. Yay!) I trot up to the front to apologise and explain that actually I wanted to go into town and was that two zones? I beg your pardon. All the time thinking, but didn’t you think maybe that that is what I wanted when I happened to give you the correct money for two zones even though I did - hands up - I admit it, say, 'One zone'? Couldn't you just possibly have figured that one out? Just how hard can it be? (As my youngest sister often says.) But oh no Mr Oscar the Grouch, the driver with a mean streak, you chose to trick me didn't you? Catch me out? As is the wont of all bullies.
Grumpy Drawers grudgingly accepts my payment, but still demands I pay full price again. Luckily I had the correct change, otherwise I just know I would have been turfed off the bus to fend for myself.
But that’s not all.
Not content with haranguing me, he then proceeds to yell out that another female had only one zone clicked on her bus pass, then gets out of his seat and parades up the aisle like a mini-dictator (all he needed was a switch to bang against his trouser leg) until he found the culprit. Now I don’t know about buses in other places, but the buses in Dunedin are very quiet. Almost silent. Through all of this farce, not one person murmured. There were maybe some eyebrows raised and perhaps a couple of what could loosely be termed mirthless, half-smiles exchanged, but nary a word was spoken. It was the silent majority in full bloom.
And so Mr I've-Got-a-Piece-of-Gorse-Stuck-in-My-Undies was allowed to get away with it. Of course he’s in the wrong job - he should be a school caretaker, or a Russian conductor. (I say Russian conductor because the whole experience put me in mind of an article written by a writer friend of mine about an unsettling border experience she had on a Russian train.)
As he makes his way back to the front of the bus, our charming driver sneers in his best ‘sarcastic-teacher’ tone,
“You people need to get to know your zones better don’t you?”
What's this? 'Get to know our zones better'? Hang on a minute mate - this isn’t a classroom here. This isn’t even Russia. This is a bus full of mature adults. At least that’s what I thought it was. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve been known to be wrong before.