Bag packed the night before, I wake up early. I am up, dressed and ready on time. The open dishwasher displays its clean load – I’d better do my duty. I empty it, dash out and hear the bus. I run down the road. The driver waits a moment then pulls away when my throat and lungs have got to their full scraped soreness. Blast.
I want to cry. I want to tell teasing bus drivers what I think of them. I want to beg strangers to give me a lift.
Ho hum. I wait. Schoolkids turn up. I wonder if I could jump off at the Sports Centre, run round to the Bus Station and still catch the Midhurst bus. The next Wittering bus is late. I will stay chilled. I will not worry. I will not look at my watch as we pass every telegraph pole, hoping we still might make it.
No chance: Stockbridge roundabout and then the gates are down on the railway crossing. Pah.
I high-tail it up towards the Cathedral. Maybe I could get to the bank? Get the cheque in I’ve been carrying round since August? I check the clock on the Cross – I’d be pushing it and it’s not good to be late on your first day. I give in and wait beneath the gargoyle.
I wait. I look at the brown and white pigeon, the corbels, the hole in the centre of the rose window, the wonky bits of the Cathedral. Quarter to strikes. No bus. I talk to an expectant mum waiting for another bus after mine. It comes. She goes. The hour sounds across the precinct. A child cyclist wobbles past. The heroine of my work-in-progress climbs the parapet of her school and finds she is locked out. The bus does not come. Quarter past and then the rumble. Not my bus. This one stops at the same shelter.
Ah, but mine is behind it. I wave as if it is a long-lost friend. The driver must stop, must see me. I now do everything very quickly as though it will make any difference to my utter failure at time-keeping.
An hour late I clump into the Old Library. Walking boots are not quiet on parquet – no sneaking in for me. The only things I learn from the Introduction and Address is that West Dean offers a Phd and that there will be a Christmas Costume party.