THEY hop off and walk over to the parked buses. Inside the station people sip tea and munch on crisps; a security guard leans against the red ticket machine while a man gives out at the ticket office; and bus drivers rush up and down the stairs like pilots carrying their little satchels.
A cleaner picks up rubbish. The place smells of disinfectant, but not any fruity or soapy kind. More like hospital kind.
They ask a driver has anyone brought in a stray dog. He shrugs and points them to the last driver standing outside the station.
Matt stops short. No way is he talking and looking like a right idiot. He fails at pushing Barra. “You talk to him.”
“Go away. This isn’t my idea.”
“Picture him as Caoimhe. Or getting asked to sing.”
“That doesn’t help, Crunchie.”
God’s sake. He shoulders his bag and walks up. The bus driver is staring across at a café on Parnell Place. He’s balding, stubble pricklier than a hedgehog, tubby as a hedgehog, and about 20 years too young to be a respectable bus driver.
“Hey, don’t suppose you noticed a dog getting off your bus, did you?”
The bus driver sips his coffee. “Might’ve. What’s it to you?”
“He’s my neighbour’s dog.”
The man looks across the street. Jesus, is it a big secret or what?
“We’ve to pay for the answer so?”
“How about if ye convince Donna to go on a date with me, I’ll say.”
Matt raises his arms. “What the f**k man? This isn’t some quest.”
The bus driver drinks. “Up to you.”
Matt shakes his head. That’s the problem with the world. No nice people. Mam wouldn’t take him to buy a PS5. Mrs Higgins dangles one. James Murphy barging in and telling Caoimhe Mulcahy all about his new PS5 and flat screen TV in his room. And she might go over…
“Come on, Crunchie.”
Barra grumbles and stamps across the road.
The coffee shop is small and narrow with black counter-tops and tiny silvery tables, like the ones on balconies in holiday ads. Cups and cutlery clang, newspapers rustle and phones beep. Coffee beans might as well be clogging their noses.
Donna is a pretty woman and way too good for that cheeky bus fecker. Slim, 20-something, with cool older sister vibes, blonde highlights in her plaited black hair. She wipes her hands on a towel.
Barra elbows him. “Practice for Caoimhe.”
Matt’s stomach turns and he wants to knock Barra out but isn’t tall enough.
He puts his elbows on the counter, points outside. “See the bus fella across the way.”
“Gary? Yeah, he’s always in.”
“He’s a really great guy. Not just a bus driver either, um, motorbike too, and, uh, you know...”
Maybe she’s listened to Red FM and is tired of dating apps. Telling her Gary’s holding them to ransom won’t make the best impression.
“Bit of a catch, if you take my meaning.”
She folds her arms. “Hmmm. Such a catch he’s sent a pair of teens in. Sweeping me off my feet, he is.”
Barra puts up his hand like at school. Actually, he never does. “But he’s always in. Must like you. He’s all nervous, like. Butterflies and stuff. He’s really interested.”
Matt rolls his eyes. Like that’ll work. They should tell her about the dog. Not the PS5.
Donna sighs. “Sure, look, say we’ll arrange something. He’s not the worst.”
He decides not to tell her a blind date is the better option.
Barra smiles. “Jesus, ain’t this nice, Matt.”
“Lovely. Thanks, Donna. Come on, Crunchie.”
They run back and Gary’s eyes widen at the news.
“Apparently,” Matt mumbles.
“Where will you take her for the shift?” Barra asks.
“Sh*t, I suppose...“
“Never mind that. Which way did Dodger go?”
Gary indicates across the river. “Thought he was a guide dog or something. Saw him head across the bridge, trotting after a fella. Mechanic, I reckon, by the look of him. Bit funny he wasn’t leading him or nothing.”
Matt shakes his head. “Sound, lad. Let’s go.”
They set off again.