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   Bus to Heaven ( a story for learning English) by Thor

Part 1  The Daily Grind 

Every morning Helen put her left shoe on before her right shoe. She combed her hair before she put on any mascara. And she made her bed before she ironed her dress. There wasn't any special reason for doing things in that order. It was just a habit, and she never thought about it.

But work wasn't a habit, even after fifteen years. She grumbled about it to anyone who would listen every morning. She told her husband what would happen each day. It was the same every day. He knew it off by heart, and didn't listen any more. He talked about the football, and she didn't listen to that either.

Her friend, Molly, would be on the bus, complaining about her neighbour. Old Jack, the timekeeper at the factory gate, would wink at her. He had been winking at her for seven years now. He was too shy to say anything. Somebody would be away, and Mullins, the supervisor, would ask her to show a new girl what to do. If only something unpredictable would happen!

Part 2    The Special

It was drizzling when Helen reached the bus stop. She was so depressed that she didn't even look up as she heard the bus coming. She stepped off the pavement to flag it down, as she always did.

The driver looked at her weekly pass without a word. His face seemed shaded. She sat down, and suddenly noticed it was a luxury tour coach with tinted windows. It wasn't the factory bus at all. Helen went to jump up, but a man in the next seat smiled at her very nicely. "Blow work", she thought, and relaxed again.

The coach had a tour guide. He came to see Helen, and seemed embarrassed. She wasn't part of the quota, he said. It was a terrible mistake, but it was too late to change now. Helen was surprised, and asked where the bus was going.

The guide hated his work. Now he had to tell this stupid woman that she was dead. Nobody had asked her to step onto the Bus to Heaven. There would be an awful argument.

Part 3  Alarming Information

Helen was alarmed to learn that the bus was an express. But then she laughed. The guide said it was an express to heaven. All the tourist brochures said things like that.

She would love to make the trip, she told the guide, but she really had to go to work. Surely the driver would be able to open the door at the next traffic light. She would just hop out. This was fun.

The guide began to stutter. How could he explain? It would not be possible to get off the bus, he said. It didn't stop at traffic lights. Anyway, ghosts could never learn to live happily on earth. People didn't understand them.

Helen couldn't work out what this fellow was talking about. Ghosts? What was this talk about ghosts? The guide sighed, and vanished up to his chin. Then Helen noticed her own arm was sticking through the seat in front. She was too surprised to speak.

Surprise gave way to anger. How dare they make a ghost out of her! They had kidnapped her. She would sue the director!

Part 4      The Trip

The man who had smiled tried to calm her down. He told her to enjoy herself.   He began to explain the story of his life, but Helen wasn't listening. She forced herself to think. She had to get out of here.

Helen expected the trip to take a long time. It seemed that the other passengers weren't worried. They seemed to be rather quiet. She hoped to get lunch soon. Personally she felt rather peckish. But she wasn't sure if ghosts were supposed to eat.

Part 5       Bluff

Helen decided to bluff the guide and the driver. First, she would persuade them that she wasn't a ghost. Second, she would threaten to get them into trouble. She hoped that that would make them nervous. Third, she would demand that they return her to the bus stop.

She tried to study the other passengers. They seemed to be quiet. They didn't seem to be very alert, but they weren't asleep either. None of them were asking for food or drink.

Helen hoped to alarm the guide by acting differently. She began to sing. The guide rushed up saying 'Shh'. She told him to mind his own business. She demanded to receive refreshments. Finally, she insisted that the driver turn the bus around.

Part 6          A Difficult Passenger

Helen: "Look here you fool. Either be useful or mind your own business."
Conductor: "The boss won't like this at all!"
Helen:  "The boss?! Just wait until I tell him about you and the driver. Kidnapping  innocent pedestrians! You are the ones who are in trouble."
Conductor: "Uh?"
Helen: "Now how about some food, eh? And I'd like a nice glass of  white wine to wash it down with please."
Conductor:  "I'm afraid that is impossible."
Helen: "Look, I've tried to be reasonable with you. It is obvious that I don't belong with this crew. There's a bit of life in me yet. You and your  mate up there had better figure a way to get me back to that bus stop, and fast! Understand!"

Just then the bus came to a halt. The guide hurried up to the front and picked up a microphone. He told them that an immigration control officer was boarding the bus. He told them to prepare for a short personal interview. Helen looked mischievous. She would give this fellow the interview of his life. The guide looked at her nervously. 

Part 7          Accusations

The immigration officer called for help on his walkie-talkie. Presently two officers appeared to escort Helen off the bus. They took her to a kind of booth, sitting in the middle of a misty plain. An old man began to question her.

Man: "Twenty years ago you skipped school one day and went to the pictures. Why did you lie about it to your mother ?"
Helen:   "Good grief : I can't remember what happened twenty years ago. Even if  I could ,I wouldn't discuss it with you."
Man:   "When you were sixteen you shop-lifted a pair of stockings from Woolworths."
Helen:  "Yes. I felt terrible afterwards. I would have taken them back if I had had the courage. I burnt them. "
Man: "When you were nineteen you kidded Fred Harvey along for nine months because he took you to expensive restaurants and shows."
Helen:  " I would have paid for myself if I hadn't been broke."
Man: " Three times last year you told your husband that you were working overtime. You really went out on the town with your friends."
Helen: " Yes, and I would lie to him again too if it would save an argument. Look, I don't know who you are, but you are far too nosy. I want a bus out of  here."


Part 8        A Shady Deal

Helen refused to cooperate with the old man. She got up and stamped off into the  mist in a rage. Presently she heard a hiss:

"Psst. Over here. You want to get out of this hole. Talk to Franky. You and I can do a deal."

Helen looked around, but it was difficult to see anything in the mist. Suddenly a little guy with big ears appeared at her elbow. He was wearing a bow tie and a check sports coat. "God!", thought Helen. "Who would expect a sharp salesman to turn up in a place like this?"

Part 9         Bargaining

Helen: What do you mean you can do a deal?
Franky: Lady, I'm here to help people. I run a business, understand? But it costs  money to run a business.
Helen: I don't have much money on me. I think there's only about $20 in my purse.
Franky:  No problem. You leave us a finger as security. We'll be happy to run you down to Earth on credit.
Helen: Are you crazy?
Franky: Lady, you're forgetting: this place is not like home. You can break off a finger easily and put it back on anytime. (He snaps his left little finger off. Helen gasps, but Franky calmly sticks it back in place.)    Now, you try that.
Helen: Oh no! No way! You are as creepy as those other weirdos. Help!
Franky: Hey, hey, not so loud. If they find you, you'll never leave. Now I'm not going to hurt you. OK, so I don't run a luxury coach. I can only smuggle you out on an old space-freighter. But my outfit will get you back to   Earth. I  guarantee that.
Helen: God; this is all crazy. I don't know what to do.

Part 10           The Homecoming

It was sometime after this conversation that Helen found herself standing on the footpath near her house. She didn't have a clue what had happened, but she was very hungry.

Her husband yawned at her. "Wests have won without any penalties", he said.

"You'd watch football while the sky fell in," snapped Helen sharply, but he wasn't listening.

 Later, however, when she passed him a slice of bread , he turned very pale.

"Where's your little finger?" he yelped.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you", said Helen. "Actually, someone is looking after it for me.


The End


Here are a few test exercises for some parts of the story :


Exercise 1  (Bus to Heaven  --  Part 1  The Daily Grind)

Please finish the sentences below. Put a phrase from the list in each space.

1. Helen had a habit of ________________________________.

2. She could never make a habit of _______________________.

3. She was always grumbling about _______________________.

4. Helen and her husband had one-way conversations about _____           _____________________________________________.

5. Helen could guess __________________________________.

6. She hated living like this because _______________________. 

a) exactly what would happen at the factory
b) having to go to work
c) her job and his football
d) going to work
e) it was so predictable
f) putting on her left shoe before her right shoe

Exercise 2
  (Bus to Heaven  --  Part 3 : Alarming Information)

Grammar Exercise: Verb + to + Verb

Please fill in the spaces in the sentences below. Use one of the [Verb + to + Verb]
sets for each space.

1. Helen was_______________________that the bus was an express.

2. She would ______________________the trip.

3. She really _______________________to work.

4. The driver would be _______________ the door.

5. The guide_______________________.

6. Ghosts could never _______________ happily on earth.

7. She was too ____________________.

a) able to open
b) surprised to speak
c) began to stutter
d) alarmed to learn
e) had to go
f) learn to live
g) love to make

 Exercise 3  (Bus to Heaven  --  Part 4   The Trip )

In English, some verbs like TRY can be followed by  TO + VERB (e.g. to calm), or by VERB + -ING (e.g. calming). Other verbs can also take THAT + NOUN + VERB PHRASE (e.g. that she should enjoy ..). Sometimes these switches change the meaning a bit, sometimes not (there are no rules for meaning change, only custom).  Below are some examples. See if you can make up other sentences in English that do the same kind of thing.

He tried to calm her . 
He tried calming her .
He told her to enjoy herself. 
He told  her that she should enjoy herself.
He began to explain the story. 
He began explaining the story.
She forced herself  to think. 
She forced herself thinking .. 
She forced herself that she should think..

Exercise 4   (Bus to Heaven  --  Part 8  A Shady Deal )

1. Make questions using these verbs:

refuse; co-operate; stamp off; hear; offer; see; look like; wearing; expecting.

2.  Invent a conversation in which the little guy bargains with Helen. He is offering to smuggle her out of the place. She is suspicious. She wants to know how, and at what price.

A quirky story of unexpected events in an ordinary life... 
for teaching to NESB students 
(non-English speaking background) and others 
Thorold May 
© copyright Thorold May 1996-2006; All Rights Reserved  
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company  ACN 1116240S  Melbourne, Australia

  Note 1: This little story sort of grew from class to class, and can grow yet, 
             according to whim.... 

   e-mail Thor May : thormay AT ;


writing & photography on this site is
   copyrighted © Thorold (Thor) May 2005
   all rights reserved,

thormay AT  
The Passionate Skeptic 
[and what this website stands for ..]

Doubt well, do what you can, then let it be. Presidents, priests, wage slaves, hustlers, men and women, kids, we all live by the grace of those we love to despise...

I don't care what you believe in, so long as you don't believe in it too strongly. A belief is a weapon in the armoury of your heart, and its razor edge will murder the innocent. The ice, the fire of your passion will seduce mundane men and women. Your clarity will excite respect. And the first demagogue who comes along with a key to your heart's armoury will wrest the weapon from your moral grasp. The first cause which wears the colours of your belief will enlist you as a soldier in ravaging crusades. Peace friend. Keep your passion to doubt with. Our civilization is a simple matter of live and let live, of giving dreams a go, but stepping back with a wry smile when we get it wrong. Let the fundamentalists perish in their own pillars of fire. Spare a dollar for the living, and have a nice day. 

Thor @1 November 1991

Direct Link to Thor's Aphorisms

©2005 Thor May