The Tran­sit Games

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION - ROGER COL­LIER Roger Col­lier’s col­umn ap­pears ev­ery sec­ond week.

They all tried to stop me, told me it was im­pos­si­ble, said I was crazy to even con­sider it. My friends. My fam­ily. The guy with the thing who does stuff at the place. Hey, I don’t blame them. They were only look­ing out for me.

But, de­spite the warn­ings, de­spite the dan­gers, I wanted to do it. I had to do it. The peo­ple I loved had suf­fered enough, had gone with­out for too long, and there was only one way to end their mis­ery. I had to en­ter the Tran­sit Games.

Ev­ery year, 24 teenagers are cho­sen to com­pete in the Tran­sit Games. They’re called the Pas­sen­gers. Their goal is to cross National City by bus within 24 hours. Sounds easy, right? Well, it would be, ex­cept for one thing. The buses are con­trolled by the Driv­ers.

Their job is to thwart the Pas­sen­gers’ progress, to en­sure they never reach their desti­na­tion on time, if at all. And they ex­cel at their work. Last year, only one Pas­sen­ger com­pleted the trip, a clever 13-year-old boy from the High-tech District.

What hap­pens to Pas­sen­gers who lose in the Tran­sit Games? No­body knows for sure. Some peo­ple say they are chained to desks in cu­bi­cles, forced to fill out spread­sheets and me­morize cor­po­rate mis­sion state­ments. Oth­ers say losers spend the rest of their lives in Bar­rhaven, a waste­land south of the city.

I knew my chances of win­ning were mi­nus­cule, but I vol­un­teered any­way. Why? For the prize, of course. All vic­tors in the Tran­sit Games re­ceive $20 Star­bucks gift cards. I will win for my mother, who hasn’t had a skinny caramel mac­chi­ato in days. I will win for my sis­ter, who likes those cake-on-a-stick things.

The day of the Tran­sit Games ar­rives and I board a bus with the other Pas­sen­gers in the city’s west end. A few min­utes af­ter the bus pulls away from the sta­tion, I sense that some­thing is wrong. Then the bus be­gins to swerve all over the road. I ap­proach the Driver and dis­cover the prob­lem. He is talk­ing on a cell­phone.

I have to get off this bus. Now. I run to the rear doors but can’t fig­ure out how to open them. Do I push a but­ton, a bar or the doors? Is there a mo­tion sen­sor? A pres­sure mat?

“They’re dance-ac­ti­vated,” a fe­male Pas­sen­ger says, push­ing me aside and break­ing into a jig.

The doors burst open and we both jump out. Be­fore any of the other Pas­sen­gers have time to es­cape, the bus plunges off a bridge into National City River. The Tran­sit Games have barely be­gun, and yet, al­ready, only two re­main.

“I’m Pe­tra,” I say to my sole op­po­nent and po­ten­tial love in­ter­est.

“I’m Ker­ria,” she says, smil­ing. “Nice to save you.” “Yeah, thanks for that,” I say. An­other bus ar­rives be­fore I can com­pli­ment Ker­ria on her dance moves. The front door opens and the Driver tells us to get in. Ker­ria boards first, and as I fol­low her in­side I look at the Driver and say, “Hi.”

“Shut your freak­ing cake-hole!” the Driver shouts. “Don’t say an­other freak­ing word!” “What’s a cake-hole?” I ask. “I don’t have to an­swer your ques­tions,” he grum­bles, grab­bing his jacket and storm­ing off the bus.

The Driv­ers’ job is to thwart the Pas­sen­gers’ progress, to en­sure they never reach their desti­na­tion on time, if at all. And they ex­cel at their work. Last year, only one Pas­sen­ger com­pleted the trip, a clever 13-year-old.

Great. Just great. We exit the bus, sit on the road and wait. An hour passes. Then an­other. Fi­nally, a bus comes and picks us up. I’m care­ful to keep quiet, not want­ing to tick off this Driver, too.

As we speed along the bus route, I al­low my­self to imag­ine that the Tran­sit Games will have two win­ners this year. But then, as if on cue to de­stroy that dream, the unimag­in­able hap­pens. The Driver starts singing.

“Near, far, wher­ever you are,” he war­bles. “I be­lieve that the heart does go on.”

No. Not Cé­line Dion. Even a Driver couldn’t be so cruel. I cover my ears but the lyrics seep through my fin­gers. Ker­ria falls on the floor, writhing and scream­ing. I reach into my pocket and pull out my ipod.

“Here, use this to drown it out,” I say, hand­ing it to Ker­ria. “What about you?” she asks. “I’ll be fine,” I say as I Macarena the rear doors open. “Have a frap­puc­cino for me.”

I leap into the evening air, my hands and face hit­ting cold pave­ment a nanosec­ond af­ter my feet. But the pain evap­o­rates, hor­ror rush­ing in to take its place, when I no­tice the sign to my left. “Wel­come to Bar­rhaven,” it reads. “En­joy your stay.”

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