The Nicht Bus
by: Blackhall, Sheena
The Nicht Bus
Commissioned by Gordon Menzies Productions for B.B.C. Education’s Around
Scotland’ - ‘A Tongue in Yer Heid’ televised Jan/Feb 1995.
(It is a cold, windy night in Anytown. A tall, spare man, muffled in a scarf and wearing a thick overcoat, his eyes hidden by dark glasses is standing by a Bus Stop. Out of the darkness, headlights appear. The bus draws up and stops. The man gets on. He is to be the Narrator.)
The bus waits and purrs.
NARRATOR: Queer, foo the dark cheenges aathing. The byeways aroon this terminus are bricht an sunny bi day - fu o lauchin bairns playing fitba an the like, loud wi claikin neebors an bowfin tykes - noisy, wi office wirkers - birrin wi larries an cars. An noo - aroon midnicht - these same roads are near aa teem.
The nicht’s a shadda-land... queer things steer in the shaddas - cats that skirl an skreich alang the reefs... hoolets that flichter frae auld hooses... an whyles... an whyles... even bairns, that come ooto naewye, makkin for fa-kens-far...
The bus wipers and indicators click and blink. The bus rattles. The Driver never turns. His face is never directly seen.
Running steps echo on a pavement - a flushed, panting girl climbs on board the bus.
DRIVER: Are ye gaun far, quinie?
TRACY: I dinna ken. I’ve jist got 10p. Will that dee?
DRIVER: Pit it back in yer pooch eenoo. We’re nearly ready tae leave, ye’d best sit doon.
NARRATOR: Naethin aboot her fits - dis it! Ner name’s Tracy Netherley, a quine frae aff the estate. D’ye see the sheen she’s weirin? They belanged tae her big sister Jean.
The pynts come ooto a pair o jimmies. Her T-shirt’s torn an her Ma bocht yon track-suit she’s weirin at a sale of wirk for 30p. The gloves are hame-knitted. They’ve dane twa o’ her brithers already - that’s the wye they’re darned.
I ken aboot these things - I grew up in a faimly like Tracy’s, gettin aabody’s haud-me-doons, aathing secunt-rate, niver anything new. Ye can smell yer brither aff the verra coat on yer back... Oh, the yalla stain doon the T- -shirt she’s got on, is egg. Her wee sister Esme drapped her egg sodger doon Tracy’s front at brakkfast.
That’s the thing aboot bein born intae a big faimly - the aulder anes hae tae play Ma an Da tae the littlins. Been there! Dane that! Bocht the record!
Ye can guess fit the bairns at schule caa her - “Tracy shops at Oxfam! Tracy’s a bag-lady! Flechy-flechy-flee-pit, Tracy’s claes are puir shit!” I ran awa frae a faimly like that... I wisna muckle auler than Tracy... Then, I wis fand an fostered oot...
Wheesht tho - wyte or I dicht the gum frae this windae - I’m sure there’s anither bairn rinnin doon this street - I’m sure I’ve seen her hereaboots tee - ay - she’s nearer noo -
It’s Gemma Moir, frae the bungalows. There’s nae shortage o siller in HER hoose. Her fowk baith wirk fur an ile company. Ye wint tae see the hoose they bide in! At least, Gemma ‘n the hoosekeeper bide there... Her Ma’s niver hame till late and her Da wirks aa ower the world. Gemma sees mair o the milkman than she dis o her Da.
DRIVER: Are ye gaun far, quinie?
GEMMA: I dinna ken. I’ve got plenty o siller tae pye tho...
DRIVER: Pit it back in yer pooch eenoo. We’re nearly ready tae leave -ye’d best sit doon.
The bus drives off and pauses, mid-traffic, by a bride's shop window. Mannequins stand saftly in eerie poses - waxwork Brides and Grooms.
The bus moves off.
Gemma takes a seat beside Tracy. She offers Tracy a sweet.
TRACY: Ta. Coo Candy! I like Coo Candy! I’m Tracy, Tracy Netherley, by the by. I bide in the tenements, ower the back. A richt mingin dump, yon tenement. Oor next door neebor’s got a dug that pees on the stairs an the neebor’s got his name written up on the door in chalk. Nae like us. My Ma bocht a plastic name plate an glued it on hersel. Are ye gaun far?
GEMMA: Far enough. I’m nae sure. I’m nae gaun hame tho, I’m niver gaun back there.
TRACY: Surely no? Yer claes are that bonnie! See yer trainers? I’d kill for a pair o trainers like thon. I’ve got haimmer taes wi weirin sheen that’s ower smaa, weirin aabody’s cast-affs.
GEMMA: Can yer Da nae afford new sheen?
TRACY: He’s ooto work jist noo. Atween jobs. Nae his fault. “I’ll buy ye the bonniest pair o sheen in the world, Tracy, fin I win the pools” he ay says. Then he gies me beardy.
TRACY: A roch bosy wi the fuskers on his chin. It makks yen face aa reid an tingly. Dis your Da dae that?
GEMMA: I hinna seen my Da fur months. He’s ay aawa wirkin. He says he his tae wirk, tae pye fur aa the new claes I need. Bit I dinna wint new claes - nae aa the time. I’d rather hae him hame. I dinna makk him wirk. We’ve got a hoosekeeper at hame. Whyles oor hoosekeepers are fat an illnatured an auld. Whyles, they’re furreign an hardly spikk ony English. The ane wi hae jist noo is aboot twenty-five years auld. She newses on the phone aa day tae her boyfriends and takks shotties o my Ma’s make-up.
TRACY: Dis yen Ma nae mind?
GEMMA: Ma’s ay oot wirkin. Fin she dis come hame, she’s tired, or she’s nae weel, or she’s scunnered. She’s ay got some excuse nae tae spikk tae me. She collects dolls, ma Ma, frae aa ower the world. Whiles, I think she wishes I wis a doll. She said as much, the nicht. “It’s hard enough gaun oot tae wirk tae keep a nice hoose, wi oot comin hame tae you pesterin me wi some bairnie dirt. Get ooto ma sicht an play yer computer an gie me some peace. I think I’ve earned it. I pye a hoosekeeper tae attend tae you.
TRACY: A hoosekeeper? Ye’ve got a real live hoosekeeper? I’ll bet ye hae an automatic washin machine an a microwave oven an a tumble drier! Oh, I can fair imagine yon! Straicht oot an advert!
GEMMA: Oh ay, we’ve got aa the latest gear. Fit’s sae special aboot you?
TRACY: Can ye keep a secret?
GEMMA: Ay, I think I can. I dinna ken. Naebody’s ever asked me afore tae keep a secret.
TRACY: I’m rinnin awa tee. Ye see, the schule nurse cam this foreneen. We hinna got a washin machine, nae since Da lost his job an Ma fell ahin wi the H.P. payments. My Ma haun-washes aathing in the sink an her hauns are aa roch an reid an chapt wi’ the cauld an the soapy watter.
She dis TRY tae keep us clean.. bit, och, fin ye’ve nae spin-drier, claes takk ages tae dry an as aften as no, it rains, or the cat next door pulls doon the washin line... I’d tae weir ma sister Nell’s claes tae schule this foreneen, cause mine warna dry an Nell wis aff sick wi a hoast.
Nell’s claes hid a tide mark noon the neck an her sark needed darnin an her pants warna clean. Onywye... Ma gied me ma playpiece an a kiss an telt me nae tae worry, she’d dry my claes afore the fire for the morn.
Bit then, the schule nurse come... an we’d tae strip tae wir vest an pants... an my vest wis barkit... an ma pants were fule... an the ither bairns started tae lauch an pynt an fusper and snicker. An I kent they war fusperin aboot me... “Minky, minky, minky, Tracy is a stinky” they cried efter me. My Ma says they’re jist nesty vratches an nae tae heed them. Da says they’re jist ignorant. Bit I dinna like bein’ lauched at - aa day, ivery day. I’ve run awa an I’m niver gaun back.
NARRATOR: It’s funny - yon’s jist fit I thocht, fin I ran awa! Kent fit I wis rinnin’ awa frae bit nae fit I wis rinnin’ awa till... I ran awa tae a foster hame real like Gemma Moir’s hame in some wyes. Bonnie, bit cauld, naebody touched. They jist dusted ye doon, like an ornament.
GEMMA: At least your Ma and Da care aboot ye! - I tuik a sair belly the day at schule. I gaed tae the Lavvies an that’s fin I kent it hid happened. Funny, fin I looked in the pan I thocht o rose petals in the rain.
TRACY: Fit hid happened?
GEMMA: Ye ken, the thing that happens tae aa quines aboot oor age. I took ma monthlies. I cheenged intae a wummin. I tell ye, I wis that excited I wis fit tae explode.
TRACY: Fit did ye dee? Did ye tell the ither quines? Fit did ye dee?
GEMMA: I gaed tae the teacher an she sent me tae the nurse and the nurse showed me fit tae weir an telt me tae gang hame an tell ma Ma, 'cause it wis a special time fur me.
TRACY: They sent ye hame frae schule?
GEMMA: Ay. They phoned the hoosekeeper first, tho. I winted tae spikk tae Ma - I really did. Questions war queuin up inside o me, jostlin tae get oot. 'Yer Ma'll unnerstaun,' the teacher said. 'Hae a wee news wi yer Ma. She'll gie ye a wee bosie.'
She disnae ken my Ma. I'm jist anither doll in her hoose...I've tae bide ooto sicht, bide ooto the road, bit I'm fine fur showin aff tae veesitors or at Christmas fin we play 'Happy Femlies'.
TRACY: Oh, I love Christmas! Da pretends he's Sunty an creeps inno wir bedrooms wi toys an aipples an sweeties! Da makks Christmas really excitin! He tells stories an sings tae us!
NARRATOR: I winner if Tracy thocht fit her Da'll dae fin he waukens up an she's gaen? Funny, ye niver think aboot things like ither fowk, fin yer hurtin inside yersel. Wid ye stop an think fit ithers wid feel if you ran aff?
I hid a Da an Ma aince that loved me...bit fin aince ye stert rinnin, it's like gaun doonhill on a bike...ye canna seem tae stop...Wheesht, tho, Gemma's feenishin her story...
GEMMA: I wyted up till efter ten fur her comin hame...an fin I telt her...fin I telt....She didna gie me a bosie...she jist glowered at me like I wis a burglar or something orra she'd stepped in.
'So?' she said. 'That happens tae me ilkie month. Noo ye ken foo I feel. Aa the mair reason tae ging tae yer bed early. I'm awa fur a bath.'
I wished she'd droon in the bath. Tracy, I really wished she'd droon.....
NARRATOR: Aabody says bairns are better aff wi their parents in a nice twa-parent family. I winner if they are? I winner if Gemma his a Granny, or a Granda, or an aunty that loves her?
Love’s nae something yer born wi, like twa airms, twa legs, or twa lugs. Some fowk jist hinna got ony - ithers hae mair than eneuch fur a dizzen bairns. Fit dae ye think?
(The bus passes massive road sign “STOP” “30mph” ‘NO RIGHT TURN. “)
NARRATOR: Traffic sudna gae wrang, wi aa these signs tae keep it richt, should it? That’s fin accidents happen, fin things hae nae limit pit on them. Some fowk say that aboot bairns anna... say they should be keepit under control...
Oh! We’re stoppin again. Twa loons are staunin at this stop. I see they’ve baith chosen the front seat... tae be nearest the door, nae doot. That ain nearest the windae’s Neil Cormack. His Ma wis a wee bit slow... nae verra guid at readin... nae verra guid at onything, really. Fond o Neil, bit jist cudna cope. A bit o a tortoise. An aabody nooadays is meant tae cope - ye canna hae traffic rinnin at five miles an oor fin aa ither cars are traivellin at seventy five miles an oor.
“It’s nae richt, a loon o Neil’s age luikin efter his ain Ma,” they said “It’s nae the dane thing. It’s nae childhood ava.” So, they lifted him. Tuik him intae care, intae Pitmidder Bairn’s Hame, on the ootskirts o toun.
The loon aside him’s Luke Barclay. Spik aboot chalk an cheese. Bus stops bring the queerest fowk thegither! Luke gyangs tae St. Andrews, the posh public schule at the ither side o toun... altho I seem tae mind baith loons aince bedd in the same street... let’s lug inno their claik.
NEIL: Yer Luke Barclay are ye nae? Eesed tae bide at the fit o my street? Jist you’n yer Ma? Same as me, wi my Ma! Wis I the ane that gaed intae care? Ay! That’s me! I’m the one! Said my Ma cudna cope, bit I luikit efter her fine. She wis aa richt fin I wis there. Efter they tuik me awa, she jist lost hairt, gaed doonhill. Noo, she bides in a hostel, sae she’s in care anna - community care. It’s nae as if they even gaed me a real hame, a foster hame, an adopted hame. Oh no, adoptin parents wint a bonnie wee baby, nae a great muckle clort o a loon. I’m sick o bein telt fit channel tae watch on T.V., fit meals tae ett, fin tae switch aff the lichts, fit time tae scratch ma heid!
Fin I bedd wi Ma, I got tae choose aa these things masel. ‘Pitmidder Bairn's Hame!’ Some hame! Listen, Luke, I’ve hid ten key workers since I gaed inta care. Ten o them! Like I wis a door they aa try tae open. Except I keep masel locked, oh ay, I dinna open tae NAEBODY. Nae worth it, see?
Some o them hardly bide lang enough for me tae learn their names. I did like ae guy, caad Dave... bit he moved anna. Left the Hame tae be a postie. I grat fur a hale wikk efter he left. Nae ony mair.
The Cooncil advertised me in the papers - Oh hey - Jacky Broon, the scaffy, telt me he saw it. “Neil, aged eleven,” they wrote, “needs loving home. A scamp who could do well in the right environment.”
Advertised me like I wis a pet, or some sort o shop-soiled bargain! Well, taa taa, said I!
NARRATOR: That’s fit I thocht, fin I ran awa frae my foster hame. Ay chasin the rainbow. Ay thinkin the grass wad be greener someither wye... ay leavin, ay movin, ay settin aff - niver arrivin...
LUKE: Yer rinnin awa, an I’m rinnin back... yer nae the only body that’s bin in care, Neil Cormack.
NEIL: Oh, you’d bring tears tae a glaiss ee, you wid. You’re nae in care. You’re a boarder at yon posh schule...
LUKE: St. Andrews.
NEIL: Ay, yon’s the place. A real toff you are. Queer, I canna see you there, Luke. Ye spikk the same’s me. Dae the ithers nae takk the rise o ye?
LUKE: I dinna spik Scots at St. Andrews, ye gype, ye sud ken better than that. Na, I spikk English there.
NEIL: Aa the time? Nae jist in class, or at Kirk?
LUKE: Na, aa the time. It’s like pittin on an act, frae the time I rise in the mornin, till I gang tae bed at nicht.
NARRATOR: Queer, yon. Language is meant tae bring fowk thegither, nae rug them apairt. Language should be like chusin claes - yer ain free choice, nae a schule uniform yer forced tae weir. It should say somethin aboot YOU, nae an act ye pit on like Punch n’Judy.
NEIL: Bit ye won yon scholarship tae ging there. Are ye sayin ye didna wint tae ging?
LUKE: It’s nae that I didna wint tae ging, nae fur a start. Aabody says it’s a guid schule - an sae it is - the teachers are clivver... bit...
NEIL:Aa the ither bairns come frae posh hames - I’ll bet their fowk are aa lawyers an big-shot doctors on heidmaisters or M.P.s...
LUKE: Nae aa, bit maist o them... it’s nae even that - I could cope wi that - it’s haein tae pretend aa the time I’m somethin that I’m nae. Haein tae pretend I spikk English like I wis born tae it. Haein tae act like the ither loons - they dinna fecht n’ caper aboot like we did as littlins, Neil. Na they’re aa that serious. An last wikk... last wikk wis prize givin...
NEIL: Dinna tell’s - ye didna win a prize - sae yer rinnin awa!
LUKE: Oh no. I won twa or three prizes. Bit my ma saved up tae come. She didna ken they were lauchin at her, bit I kent fur her. She wis richt in the front row, Neil, fit tae burst wi pride, wi a big feathery hat o ma Aunty Jessie’s on, that Aunty Jessie weirs tae funerals, an a black plastic purse wi big gold clasps on it an a tangerine mini-suit.
“See that loon up there” she said tae Professor Smith’s wife, “that’s my Luke. He’s a wee smasher.”
An the loons in the row ahin her jist cracked up. “Oh has Rab C. Nesbitt’s wife got a special invitation to the do?” “I thought the cleaners went home after morning assembly?? Somebody should tell her the DSS is two miles away.”
“Looks like a Scottish tangerine.”
NEIL: If they’d dane yon tae my Ma, I’d hae flattened them.
LUKE: Ay well. Hauf o me wis startin tae lauch wi them. That’s fit frichtit me, Neil. I wis affrontit o my ain Ma - an yon’s nae richt. An nae schule that makks ye affrontit o yer ain fowk is richt, either. Sae I’m rinnin awa - back hame. Back tae far I belang.
NARRATOR: I think yon’s aa the passengers the bus’ll be picking up the nicht... Wait tho, wait tho, somebody’s risin...
(Luke rises. Goes forward and stops the bus. He turns, waves to Neil and disembarks)
NARRATOR: That’s ane that’s got aff, while he still can. I’ve spent my hale life sittin on a bus like this, a hale life spent rinnin awa frae some-body, or something. It’s the easiest wye, sometimes, bit it’s nae ay the safest wye... cardboard city... cardboard city’s far lots o fowk like me end up, jist driftin, driftin, driftin like rubbish, blawn bi the wind. Bit there’s itherwyes o dealin wi things. Mebbe ae day, I’ll try them...
(The bus enters a long, dark tunnel. Quietly, the driver pulls over into the side of the road. Without turning around, in a soft whispery voice, he addresses the passengers)
DRIVER: This is the last chaunce ye’ll hae tae leave. Onybody sikkin tae gyang back, maun dae it noo, fur fin we come tae the ither end o the tunnel, ye maun bide on the bus till we reach the Life that each o ye deserve. They’ll be nae turnin back. Yer auld life an aabody in it, will be ooto yer reach forever...
(Imagery - a succession of doors slamming shut)
a door that’s shut, that’ll nivver open again.
(Nobody moves. Slowly the driver eases his foot off the brakes.)