Gorilla Drives the Zoo Bus
Gorilla drives the same zoo bus all day, every day,
same starting time, same finishing time, same route, same stops,
different passengers, but all passenger equally faceless.
Gorilla doesn’t want to know their names.
“Please tender the exact fare!”
Not a penny less, not a penny more, and he polices every penny.
Bus conductor and master of every passenger’s destiny,
he opens and shuts the door, letting passengers on and off the bus,
but only at official stops.
Every passenger has a ticket,
and Gorilla punches every ticket with a neat, round hole.
He never makes mistakes.
He grinds, like God’s own mills, exceedingly small.
He has spent all his life in uniform.
He has a belt and braces to hold his trousers up.
He’s always prepared for the worst.
Ten, fifteen, twenty years:
an anonymous wife; anonymous little babies;
at shift’s end, a pension, and another bus.
St. Peter’s at the wheel.
He doesn’t want to know where gorilla wants to go:
he wants to know where he’s been.
This poem follows on from my statement in Structure in the Short Story that “my greatest fear then becomes the gate-keepers, those anonymous figures who sit on shadowy selection committees, place ticks in appropriate boxes, and judge the quality of writing by consensus in committee.”
A long time ago, on holiday in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, we caught the bus from where we lived into the city center. I made a mistake in the name of the stop to which we wanted to travel and the bus driver insisted we got off at the place I had named. He would not let us travel to the stop a little further on to which we wanted to go. It was raining hard and so I told him that, rather than get wet, we would pay the difference in fare, but he said he had no change and insisted we get off the bus. I didn’t have any change either and had only a five pound note, so I gave him that and after a few curses and meaningful looks, he pocketed the money (more than three times the original fare), allowed us to stay on the bus, and took us to our true destination.
I have often thought about the “anonymous, shadowy people” who rule a tiny kingdom and insist, sometimes with the utmost vigor, that everything should be done exactly they way they want it done. There is no room in their lives for creativity, for adventure, for generosity, for a different way of life. More to the point, they seem (many of them, but not all) to enjoy bullying the people over whose lives they have for control for such a small amount of time. Some school teachers I have known fall into this category: utterly miserable people whose sole joy consisted in indoctrinating and dominating their young charges.
I think of them as the gate-keepers. They hold the key to a very small gate through which we all must pass, but their motto is a famous one “no pasarán” — you shall not pass.