I’ve always felt that each and everyone of us has specific talent – a gift we were born with and something we have the potential to be really good at. If you’re lucky, you’ll discover your particular talent when you are young enough to grasp it fully and it will make your fame and fortune. Most citizens of Boomtown never get to find out what innate gift they possess. They shuffle through their lives in blissful ignorance of the single big break that might have changed their lives for the better.
Each morning I took the No. 1 bus to work. The buses in Boomtown are the sort of wheezing smoking leviathans that were retired from the streets of most other cities years ago, but the buses on this route had been well looked after and they had an old-fashioned charm that seemed just right for the streets of Boomtown.
No matter how hard I tried and no matter how carefully I arranged my morning routine, I always seemed to be late and I’d get to the stop just as the bus was pulling away. But these buses were open at the back, with a single chromed pole to aim for as I tried to jump aboard. Most of the time it worked and I would grasp the shiny chrome reassuringly as I leapt onto the moving bus, but once or twice I misjudged it, lost my footing and went crashing to the floor. Briefly, I lay there at the feet of the other passengers inhaling the smell of decades’ worth of grime and cigarette buts and chewing gum before scrabbling to my feet and hoping my favourite seat by the window was still free.
We never exchanged two words but I saw him every day from that seat on the bus. Trudging along the same fifty yards of grey, rain-slicked pavement. He always wore navy blue overalls, hands out of sight and buried deep in his pockets. The black boots seemed too heavy for him to lift and a thin wind-cheater hung from his shoulders but was never zipped - despite everything the weather in Boomtown could throw at him. His head was always tilted down towards the floor – he looked deep in thought but he could simply have been keeping the rain out of his eyes. If I had to guess I’d say he was in his fifties but he could well have been younger, or older. Like his overalls his face was always dirty – blackened and oily looking. It never struck me as odd that his face appeared dirty so early in the mornings, when like everyone else that busied along Boomtown’s streets, I assume he was on his way to work.
He was short and rotund and you might be expecting me to say he looked jolly. But no - his face and the weary way he plodded along, spoke of a complete disinterest in a working life he was struggling to bear up to. I’d swear he looked a little shorter each day, gradually being worn down by the relentlessness of his routine. I wondered about his life – where he was going every morning and where he went each evening. This part of Boomtown had more than its fair share of scrap yards and back-street garages and I guessed that was where he was heading. But wherever he was going, it was clear it gave him no pleasure. It was clear he wasn’t one of the lucky ones that had discovered their God-given talent.
I hoped for his sake that his home life was better than his work life – I imagined a small, terraced house tended by his wife, tidy and well kept, comfortable and warm and loving.
Then one day, I didn’t see him. Everyone is entitled to time off, right? But as days turned to weeks, that fifty yards of pavement stayed obstinately empty. Perversely, I began to feel hard done by as if it were my loss and had to correct myself – surely the most important thing was that he was well? Hopefully, he’d retired in good health and was enjoying the autumn of his life in that warm and loving home I’d imagined for him. I hoped that maybe a little later in life than any of us would care for, he’d found his one true talent and was spending his newly found spare time doing the things he loved with a huge smile on that still oil-streaked face.
To think the opposite, that he hadn’t made it to retirement, that his loving wife now sat alone tending an otherwise empty house was unimaginable. To think about the other possibilities, that for more years than he could remember he’d trudged home each night to an unkempt, cold and empty house – a house that now echoed with emptiness and despair – became almost too much to contemplate.
Be lucky my anonymous friend - I hope you got your second chance.