Warren Tuttlebee turned away from the anonymous declaration of love etched into the window frame of the Birmingham outer circle number 11 bus with a lump in his throat and an ache in his heart.
‘If only someone loved me enough to call me cheeky pants,’ he sighed.
If only Megan would say something kind to him just once, then maybe he could write a declaration like that and mean it.
Whenever Warren became emotional he was compelled to fixate on the title of an appropriate love song. Taking a shaky breath, Warren whispered, ‘What can I do to make you love me?’ The young woman sitting next to him got up and moved to another seat. Warren didn’t notice because he was remembering the time he had publicly declared his feelings for Megan. He was fifteen and driven by hormonal explosions and unrequited love, he’d broke into the school one night and carved a heart into the door to girl’s toilets. Inside the heart, ‘W loves M’. Now, at twenty-eight, he was married to ‘M’ but things hadn’t turned out as perfect as he had imagined.
Warren’s love for Megan had changed from the hot, tummy tingling longing to be with her, to the development of body reflexes needed to dodge a thrown ash tray or empty vodka bottle. His colleagues within the self-employed drain cleaning fraternity said from the start that marrying the goddess of his school years because she was pregnant, was a mistake. Of course, it might have been better if the child had been his, or if little Beckham’s first uttered words while staring at Warren hadn’t sounded like, ‘sucker’.
Warren wiped his eyes and between sobs muttered, ‘the first cut is the deepest.’ The shoulders of the man sitting in front of him tightened.
The problem was that Megan absorbed his love but gave nothing back. Warren gathered his self-control and concentrated on the question he’d brought onto the number 11 outer circle, determined not to disembark until he had the answer. How was he to get Megan to love him? He wasn‘t a fussy man, he could put up with having to clean her toenail clippings from kitchen sink and he really didn’t mind the occasional slap. He could even withstand little Beckham’s ankle biting and punches to his buttocks, if Megan would return just a little of his love.
Warren sat through the quiet early afternoon on his fourth circuit around Brum surrounded by gentle conversations about false teeth and pensions but no inspiration came. At times he thought of drains and inspection pits. He missed being out on the road rodding and pressure blasting but until either his stolen van and equipment was recovered and returned, or the insurance paid up, his one-man waste management business was at a standstill.
As exhausted as the bus engine sounded as it crawled through the evening homeward-bound rush, Warren feared that no solution would come, but the sudden stopping of the bus to avoid running down a dreadlocked youth sparked the inspiration he had been seeking. The old lady beside Warren yelped as the youth went under. Warren noticed that everyone who had seen gave a collective gasp. But then, as if on a spring, the youth shot back up. His face split with the most disarming grin. People who were concerned now sank back into their seats. Strangers nodded and exchanged smiles. Warren noticed this also and now knew exactly what to do. He would make Megan care for him by putting himself in danger. Thrilled by this revelation Warren turned to the old lady next to him and said, ‘I’m going to do something dangerous.’ The old lady hit him with her handbag and moved to another seat.
The motorbike Warren bought was a beast. It scared other road users and terrified Warren. He called it, The Coughing Demon, on account of the intermittent loss of power and explosive backfire that rattled windows and made Warren feel a real bad-ass. However, Megan was unimpressed. She moved back in with her mother and issued divorce proceedings.
No longer caring about life, Warren took to riding the streets at night generating multiple complains to the police from sleep-deprived residents. One such night, life rolled Warren his much-awaited six. Warren rode down Canal Street just as a ‘merchandise’ handover between the Claw Hand Crew and the, Digbeth Darters was going down. The brickwork arches of the aqueduct under which the hostage-for-drugs transfer was being undertaken magnified the Demon’s backfiring. Both gangs, believing they were being attacked by the other, dived for cover. A real shoot-out began. Warren collided with the ‘merchandise’, a woman with bound wrists and a gagged mouth and quite accidentally he scooped her up and onto his handlebars. Her right buttock pushed down on his hand which twisted the throttle handle. Screaming almost as loud as the engine’s roar, Warren slalomed away from the battle-scene.
Warren waited for his divorce to be confirmed before he allowed Greta to move in with him. Her extremely wealthy parents, grateful for his rescue of their only daughter from the kidnappers, insisted that they buy him a new van, power jet equipment and a garage and house in which to safely keep them. A house that Greta visited regularly as their love grew. Now, on this bright Wednesday morning Warren pulled his van over and snatched up his phone. His heart thudded harder than an air-locked soil pipe as he read Greta’s text message.
HEY CHEEKY PANTS?
WATERS BROKEN. HURRY HOME.
ME AND SWEET BUMP
Maybe a guardian angel wanting Warren to know how far he had come, popped the image of the anonymous declaration of love he’d seen almost three years ago etched onto the number eleven bus. Warren’s eyes blurred as he texted Greta.
ON WAY HOME
He wasn’t just Warren now, he was Cheeky Pants and Cheeky Pants was going to be a dad.