091: The Night Bus Service


You’ve probably seen one of them if you’ve ever been in town late at night: a city bus with an electronic sign declaring “Sorry, I’m not in service”, trundling restlessly by on the orange midnight roads. The bus is almost completely dark, save for a single lamp in the driver’s cabin, like a glinting nightlight at the end of a shadowy hallway, pulling your attention in towards it – and then you see them. The silhouette of a person sitting in the back seat of the bus, completely shrouded in darkness. You will, as all people have done, rationalise it away – just a trick of the light, or a person who was on the other side of the bus, or a reflection in the window. You might even be right. But most times, you’d be wrong.

The N14 night bus is an enigma even to the people that use it for the unique travel route it offers. Bus companies will insist that there is neither a 14 or N14 bus on their service, though occasionally out-of-date leaflets can be found that indicate an N14 service makes a single stop – “Sta. Glasgow” – and only has one service at precisely 00:04 at Buchanan Street Bus station from Stance 28. And so, to board, you must go to the Buchanan Street Bus Station before 00:04, and wait at Stance 28. Provided there is at least one person at the stance by 00:04, the bus will trundle into the station – an unassuming teal-and-beige single-deck bus with dim lighting and no passengers.

The driver’s cabin is fairly well illuminated, but the driver herself, positioned as she is under the lamps, is swathed in shadows. The only discernable features are her frame – indicating she is female – frizzy red hair bunched around her head, and what seems to be a broad, cutting grin. The rest of the bus is badly lit by comparison, and an assortment of what appears to be discarded rubbish litters the interior, from the floor to the seats: but owing to the insufficient light on the passenger side of the bus, they are indiscernable from the outside.

The doors of the bus will open, and the driver will beckon you in – she asks for no fare, but she will incline her shadowed face to highlight her perpetual wry smile. It is customary to sit at the back of this bus; in so doing, you will see that what looked like rubbish from outside the bus is actually melted pools of wax, bundles of paper with bizarre drawings on them, circular metal disks with a dimple in the middle, filled with ash, and a number of strange steel “pots” with openings carved into them in ornate patterns. Custom again demands that you leave the objects where they lie, and take your seat immediately. When you are seated, the bus door will close, the lights in the entire vehicle will turn off, and the bus will pull out of the station.

For the first portion of the journey, the route is recognisable to most who are familiar with the city – North Hanover Street, Bath Street, Renfield Street, West George Street, George Square – but after a few minutes, a realisation will dawn on the mind of the passenger – the bus is going round in circles. And as soon as this realisation is reached, the bus turns down an unfamiliar street, slows to a stop, and the driver gets up.

Working her way from the front to the back of the bus, the driver – still cloaked in shadows – will set down lit white candles on the seats of the bus, along the baggage shelves above the seats, and on the floor of the carriage. She will place sticks of incense in the metal disks – incense holders – and will light the incense inside the steel pots – incense braziers. She may throw you another grin as she sets the final candle down on the seat beside you, before she returns to the front of the bus, and resumes the journey.

On this final part of the bus journey, the passenger will not recognise any of the streets, though they will all seem somewhat familiar – the architecture of buildings redolent of the apartments of the West End, some tight sidestreets resembling the close, cramped lanes in the City Center, a view of water indicative of proximity to the River Clyde. Occasionally, the outside world is not visible at all, owing to trick plays of light from the candles, casting fractal colours onto the windows of the carriage, brightening them up like incandescent stained-glass, or else, the wispy clouds of allspice-scented incense smoke blanketing the windows completely as they wind through the carriage, creating a heady atmosphere that at once feels somnolescent and suffocating. The hypnotic metronome of the carriage suspension groaning, the reliable tilt of the bus as it turns left and right, and left, and right, and left, and right, takes you in and takes you over. Slowly wading into a drift of sleep, you will feel your vision swim, your attention sink, your thoughts disperse as though writ on water, and, upon closing your eyes –

– the bus will judder to a halt, pulling you out from the cusp of sleep, and the doors will clatter open. With the smoke of burning incense filling the carriage, it is impossible to see the stop through the windows, but invariably, when you step out of the bus, you will find yourself on an empty suburban street, filled with buildings of various construction – all painfully familiar, like a recollection from a recurrent nightmare – under thunderous orange-and-purple storm-clouds.

This is Stained Glasgow“, the driver will say, in a voice that buzzes in the electric air, “and the bus will be terminating here.”

The bus will depart, and until the next time you fall asleep, you may explore the warped streets of Stained Glasgow, the archetypal memory, dream and reflection of past and present Glasgows. Without guidance, however, the acolyte may well fall prey to those things that stand hidden in the spaces darkened by the city’s Jungian shadows.

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