The Wheels on the Bus (Anglais) Cartonné – 18 mai 2010
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But Ellwand subtly alludes to another story, one where not everything is as it seems. When the story begins by picking a few happy parents and children, we see a unnamed lone panda in the back of the empty bus, pining for the unrequited love of the bus driver, Ted.
Businessmen (business-bears?) and a young socialite wait to board the bus while Ted says "all aboard!" over and over. The panda observes quietly from the back of the bus, seething with rage and ruby, bloodshot eyes (from a night of hard drugs or bad allergies, the author does not reveal) - Ted has never sung the all aboard ditty to panda.
Ted then stops to allow a hipster bear, wearing a cloying yellow and olive scarf in an attempt to show his magnificent "uniqueness", to pass while riding his bike. Once the biker has safely pedaled by, Ted tells the passengers "off we go!" three times (at this point, becoming a slightly annoying pattern). Panda is no where to be seen...
A peel of thunder is then heard and a stream of rain begins falling. A naked bear using a rainbow umbrella (evidently nudity is socially acceptable in Teddy Town) waits at the next stop. Ted turns on the heater and defogs the windshield as the precipitation pounds onto the metal bus; the windshield wipers go back and forth in a staccato rhythm - swish swish...swish swish..swish swish. Panda, still at the back of the bus, although now in a back corner, stares at the back of Ted's head, his red eyes seeming to try and shoot lasers at him. The other passengers - a mother and baby bear cub, a spectacled white-haired bear with a dog (assumed to be a service dog) - have no idea that panda has more in mind than just public transportation.
In the next chapter, the rain has stopped and no new passengers are picked up. A hush falls over the bus, suddenly broken by the wail of the baby bear cub. Panda, still alone in the back of the bus, is driven to madness by the shrieks of the baby - "wah-wah-wah", "wah-wah-wah", "wah-wah-wah". While not seen or written about directly, it is clear panda has a destructive package with him under the back seat of the bus. "Ted will pay for ignoring me all these years", thinks Panda.
A free-spirited bear (wearing an inspired rainbow striped vest), attempts to flag down the bus. Ted, however, keeps on driving while his partner (and presumed lover) merrily rings the bus' bell. The dings and dongs of the bell are like knives in the back of Panda, tearing at his soul. Ted, for his part, has no idea that Panda has pined for him all these years, as Panda has never spoken to him. But that matters not to Panda, and seeing Ted with his domestic partner is too much to bear (pun intended).
Ted's significant other leaves the bus, while a cadre of immigrant bears are forced off the bus by Ted. In a shocking twist unbeknownst to the hard working foreigners, the Teddy Town bus' next stop is at a border crossing - these bears are being deported! Oddly, the deportees do not seemed troubled at this development, offering friendly valedictions to Ted ("Cheerio!" says one, "Ciao!" offers another). Meanwhile, Panda remains at the back of the bus, unmoved and unwavering in his deluded mission. The book ends on a cliffhanger, with a young family and baby remaining on the presumably doomed bus, Ted waving goodbye and preparing to get back into the drivers seat for perhaps for the last time.
It is unclear if the author is simply leaving the story with loose ends to spare us the grisly details and allow us our own, perhaps happier conclusions, or if he is simply milking the "Wheels" franchise for yet another money-grabbing sequel. Regardless of the motives for the rather unsatisfying ending, overall this is a well-crafted thriller that intrigues by slowly simmering rather than burning in a flash of action. Four stars.