Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God

by Etgar Keret

Paperback, 196 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $17.95 |


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Etgar Keret

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Excerpt: Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God


the story about a bus driver who wanted to be god

This is the story about a bus driver who would never open the door of the busfor people who were late. Not for anyone. Not for repressed high-school kidswho'd run alongside the bus and stare at it longingly, and certainly not forhigh-strung people in windbreakers who'd bang on the door as if theywere actually on time and it was the driver who was out of line, and not evenfor little old ladies with brown paper bags full of groceries who struggled toflag him down with trembling hands. And it wasn't because he was mean that hedidn't open the door, because this driver didn't have a mean bone in his body;it was a matter of ideology. The driver's ideology said that if, say, the delaythat was caused by opening the door for someone who came late was just underthirty seconds, and if not opening the door meant that this person would wind uplosing fifteen minutes of his life, it would still be more fair to society tonot open the door, because the thirty seconds would be lost by every singlepassenger on the bus. And if there were, say, sixty people on the bus who hadn'tdone anything wrong and had all arrived at the bus stop on time, then togetherthey'd be losing half a hour, which is double fifteen minutes. This was the onlyreason why he'd never open the door. He knew that the passengers hadn't theslightest idea what his reason was, and that the people running after the busand signaling him to stop had no idea either. He also knew that most of themthought he was just an SOB, and that personally it would have been much mucheasier for him to let them on and receive their smiles and thanks. Except thatwhen it came to choosing between smiles and thanks on the one hand, and the goodof society on the other, this driver knew what it had to be.

The person who should have suffered the most from the driver's ideology wasnamed Eddie, but unlike the other people in this story, he wouldn't even try torun for the bus; that's how lazy and wasted he was. Now, Eddie was assistantcook at a restaurant called the Steakaway, which was the best pun that thestupid owner of the place could come up with. The food there was nothing towrite home about, but Eddie himself was a really nice guy—so nice thatsometimes when something he made didn't come out too great, he'd serve it to thetable himself and apologize. It was during one of these apologies that he metHappiness, or at least a shot at Happiness, in the form of a girl who was sosweet that she tried to finish the entire portion of roast beef that he broughther, just so he wouldn't feel bad. And this girl didn't want to tell him hername or give him her phone number, but she was sweet enough to agree to meet himthe next day at five at a spot they decided on together—at the Dolphinarium,to be exact.

Now Eddie had this condition—one that had already caused him to miss out on allsorts of things in life. It wasn't one of those conditions where your adenoidsget all swollen or anything like that, but still, it had already caused him alot of damage. This sickness always made him oversleep by ten minutes, and noalarm clock did any good. That was why he was invariably late for work at theSteakaway—that and our bus driver, the one who always chose the good of societyover positive reinforcements on the individual level. Except that this time,since Happiness was at stake, Eddie decided to beat the condition, and insteadof taking an afternoon nap he stayed awake and watched television. Just to be onthe safe side, he even lined up not one but three alarm clocks and ordered awake-up call to boot. But this sickness was incurable, and Eddie fell asleeplike a baby, watching the kiddie channel. He woke up in a sweat to thescreeching of a trillion million alarm clocks— ten minutes too late—rushed outof the house without stopping to change, and ran toward the bus stop. He barelyremembered how to run anymore, and his feet fumbled a bit every time they leftthe sidewalk. The last time he ran was before he discovered that he could cutgym class, which was about in the sixth grade, except that unlike in those gymclasses, this time he ran like crazy, because now he had something to lose, andall the pains in his chest and his Lucky Strike wheezing weren't going to get inthe way of his pursuit of Happiness. Nothing was going to get in his way exceptour bus driver, who had just closed the door and was beginning to pull away.The driver saw Eddie in the rearview mirror, but as we've already explained, hehad an ideology—a well- reasoned ideology that, more than anything, relied on alove of justice and on simple arithmetic. Except that Eddie didn't care aboutthe driver's arithmetic. For the first time in his life, he really wanted to getsomewhere on time. And that's why he went right on chasing the bus, even thoughhe didn't have a chance.

Suddenly, Eddie's luck turned, but only halfway: one hundred yards past the busstop there was a traffic light. And just a second before the bus reached it, thetraffic light turned red. Eddie managed to catch up with the bus and draghimself all the way to the driver's door. He didn't even bang on the glass, hewas so weak. He just looked at the driver with moist eyes and fell to his knees,panting and wheezing. And this reminded the driver of something—something fromout of the past, from a time even before he wanted to become a bus driver, whenhe still wanted to become God. It was kind of a sad memory, because the driverdidn't become God in the end, but it was a happy one too, because he became abus driver, which was his second choice. And suddenly the driver remembered howhe'd once promised himself that if he became God in the end, He'd be mercifuland kind and would listen to all His creatures. So when he saw Eddie from way upin his driver's seat, kneeling on the asphalt, he simply couldn't go throughwith it, and in spite of all his ideology and his simple arithmetic he openedthe door, and Eddie got on—and didn't even say thank- you, he was so out ofbreath.

The best thing would be to stop reading here, because even though Eddie did getto the Dolphinarium on time, Happiness couldn't come, because Happiness alreadyhad a boyfriend. It's just that she was so sweet that she couldn't bring herselfto tell Eddie, so she preferred to stand him up. Eddie waited for her, on thebench they'd agreed on, for almost two hours. While he sat there he keptthinking all sorts of depressing thoughts about life, and while he was at it hewatched the sunset, which was a pretty good one, and thought about how charley-horsed he was going to be later on. On his way back, when he was reallydesperate to get home, he saw his bus in the distance, pulling in at the busstop and letting off passengers, and he knew that even if he'd had the strengthto run, he'd never catch up with it anyway. So he just kept on walking slowly,feeling about a million tired muscles with every step, and when he finallyreached the bus stop, he saw that the bus was still there, waiting for him. Andeven though the passengers were shouting and grumbling to get a move on, thedriver waited for Eddie, and he didn't touch the accelerator till Eddie wasseated. And when they started moving, he looked in the rearview mirror and gaveEddie a sad wink, which somehow made the whole thing almost bearable.


Copyright © 2004 Etgar Keret
All right reserved.

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