Novels‎ > ‎Shot Down‎ > ‎

Chapter Two

It was strange how well Ryan remembered that first meeting.  The next few weeks of their friendship were hazy in comparison.  They had become best friends at some point, but he had no idea how it had developed when he thought back to it.  Ryan’s awe had calmed down as he found his feet in the friendship, and they were equals by Christmas.  Pretty much.

            “Evening News, mate,” a man in a yellow jacket tried to thrust a free newspaper in his face.  Ryan walked past him and paid him no further heed.  He was in a bad mood.  That particular newspaper distributor had become a litmus test for Ryan to assess how he felt on any given day.  If he were in a good mood, he would accept a paper and thank the man.  If he was just muddling along, he would politely decline the offer and carry on.  And then on the days when his mood was black, Ryan would take it out on this man by tritely ignoring him.  When he was in a foul mood he would snap at the man.  A sharply spoken ‘no,’ and a glare would make him feel like he had displaced some tension, although it never made him feel any better. 

            Ryan strode along and found himself at the bus-stop in no time, fully focussed on just getting home.  This was a part of the day that he usually relished.  Many people who drove looked down on Ryan’s mode of transport.  To travel on the peasant wagon was beneath them, but there was something that Ryan secretly enjoyed about the ninety minutes he got to himself each day to read and listen to music.  In the morning it represented the time he spent not in work.  By reading as much as he could in the morning, he felt that he kept his mind active and that his day wasn’t geared solely towards his mind-numbing work.  In the evening, the journey home epitomised the demi-freedom of leaving the office and he always enjoyed having a bit of time to himself.  The outside world made no demands of him, and he was able to switch off, once again with music and reading; two things that he considered to be very important to his existance.  He failed to get irked by the things that other passengers seemed to.  He didn’t mind if people sat next to him, and he ignored the tinny rackets emanating from mobile phones by plugging in his headphones and drowning it out.  He saw others silently seething and wondered why they didn’t try and make the most of the bus journey.  His way was certainly better than sitting in traffic, unable to unwind and just getting more and more frustrated.  Ryan felt that he was lucky to have discovered the secret.

            There were downsides, of course.  Surly bus drivers were a hazard, especially if you had the audacity to try and pay with a twenty pound note.  A screaming child could reach decibels higher than a MP3 player could counter and prove to be an irritant.  Sometimes schoolchildren would crawl over Ryan in order to assault one of their friends.  People smoking on buses annoyed him as well.  Ryan had no issue with smokers, but smoking on a short bus ride seemed like such a needless act.  It seemed to smell worse on buses than anywhere else.

            Living in Manchester, a long wait for a bus was never an option, and sure enough Ryan was taking his seat on the top deck within minutes of arriving at the stop.  Ryan always commuted on the top deck because he believed that he was too young to sit downstairs.  Downstairs was for people who feared disruption and the potential threats of sitting upstairs; the smoking, the shouting, the music on mobile phones, alongside unruliness and anarchy away from the watchful eye of the bus driver.  Later in the evenings, Ryan would sit downstairs, but that was just common sense in this day and age. 

He pulled a book out of his bag and tried to pick up the story from where he had left off that morning.  His concentration span didn’t seem to have improved over the course of the day; he struggled to follow the sentences and often had to re-read passages in order to work out what the hell was going on.  This was one of the less pleasant journeys for Ryan, where he struggled to focus on what he was doing and started to look at his fellow passengers, ensuring at all times that he didn’t make any sort of eye contact.  This was important as people were fairly intolerant of eye contact in the cities.  It was deemed threatening, intrusive or weird.  It was certainly not encouraged.  This meant briefly glancing at people, then gazing out of the window and then trying to attend to the book again.  It was only on these distracted commutes that Ryan realised how many people did nothing whatsoever to fill up their time.  No music, no reading, not even sending text messages.  They just sat there and allowed themselves to be transported.

This apathy was not limited to the older passengers.  Ryan noticed a girl who was around his age, dressed to impress in a powerful suit, but lacking anything Ryan could detect as passion.  There was no desire in that woman.  She was just another bored time-waster with nothing about her.  So young and already so far gone.  By reading a book, Ryan knew that he was hardly any better than them, and that was why he needed to sort his life out.  He was making no impact at the moment and he didn’t want to become bland.  He’d sort it out when he was prepared to take on the world again.  An early night would do the trick.  There was no shame in an early night; it had been a heavy weekend. 


“Guess who’s off this weekend?” Shaun cried out down the phone.  “Over-staffed this weekend it would seem!”

            “Which means…”

            “Which means we get to get fucked up!  Hoorah!” he called out and hung up.  Ryan cast glances around the office to make sure no-one had heard that part of the phone call.  It was a phone call that Ryan had frequently received and it always had a positive impact on his mood.  When Shaun had the weekend off, it was inspiration enough to party as hard as possible, and it felt a bit like the old days.

            Arrangements were hastily made.  On Friday night Barry and Ripley joined them for a gig, which was a tradition the four of them had clung onto since they left uni.  It had been one of their favourite communal past-times and they always made sure they had gigs lined up.  To have no gigs might imply that they were losing touch somehow.  Shaun had spied a band that they all wanted to see and set about arranging some narcotics for the occasion.  He didn’t need to ask; he knew they’d all be up for it.  They each dropped a pill during the support act and came up during the headliners, ensuring an enthusiastic response to a band they all wanted to see.  They loved their music as it was, but stimulants just made the whole experience much better.  Pints were replaced with bottles of water, and they danced manically to beats that might have otherwise eluded them, occasionally grinning at each other, more often lost in their own private moments, exultant in the haze of strobe lighting. 

            For Ryan to be taking pills at gigs showed how much he had changed over time.  Throughout his teens, he had expressed an interest in cannabis; something that became a lifestyle choice when he went to University.  But he always maintained that he would go no further than weed.  It was only from listening to the way that Ripley and Shaun spoke of pills that Ryan felt a shift in his values.  Where were the heart attacks and dehydration in these tales of their best nights ever?  They exchanged experiences with an understanding that elicited great enthusiasm in them.  Barry and Lucinda had both dabbled and also reported great times, laughing and joking about things that they had said and done.  Even the come down sounded like an interesting experience; a chemically induced mood collapse that would serve to make you act irrationally.  Ryan believed that he was all about experiences and living life to the full, and it was at Glastonbury at the end of his first year that he had taken the plunge.  Three times.

            From then on, Ryan had been willing to experiment, so to be taking pills that Friday didn’t seem unusual any more.  These adventures occurred only infrequently in order to make them more enjoyable when they did happen.  That was the rule.  After the gig, they dropped again and moved to a club for a few more hours of dancing and rushing.  They spent the remainder of the night, until the hours well after dawn, smoking and occasionally speaking in Ripley’s flat.  Conversation ranged from the seemingly meaningful, to the outright nonsensical.  It was all part of the fun.  As it was a big weekend, that meant that they all had to get themselves in shape for a heavy night out on Saturday.  One by one, the four of them dropped off to sleep on Ripley’s couches and awoke in the mid afternoon, totally unprepared for another night of indulgence.  Everyone was out that night, so Barry suggested they take another pill each and get themselves back on form.

            It did the trick and soon they were back out on the town, trawling a few bars and drinking themselves into a club.  They had past form to live up to, so they were pretty much obliged to get hammered, again holding on to the spirit that had made their University years so pleasurable.  The evening passed in a haze, with little memorable moments, but an evening that would remembered as a good time.  They all crashed out at Barry’s place.  Before dawn this time.  Then it was Sunday lunchtime and Ryan headed home for the first time that weekend.  He spent the afternoon in his room, aching from over-indulgence and wishing that time would go more slowly for once.  He finally emerged in the evening to meet Barry for a couple of pints to ease the pain.  He had four and it sent him straight to sleep that night.  Shaun had joined them at last orders, having been drinking on duty during the night.  He too looked like crap, and Ryan appreciated him for that very reason.  It was nice to have someone to share your suffering with.