Authors note. In a time when the world stage seems so divided, humans are not sheep. Sheep are peaceful. We are not.
This month, has been the first time I travelled on buses. I chose to do so because cases where I live have been low throughout lockdown & easing restrictions.
I have a long affinity with buses. It stems from a time when Mum shoveled three children aboard & the conductor folded the push chair & placed it in the luggage rack.
Today, the journey to the city centre, is different. I feel like a snail, emergent from its shell, using tentacles to guide me.
In one brand store I buy two tee-shirts, on sale, & pyjamas. This also feels like a novel experience. Maybe it is due to charity shops not opening on a regular basis. More likely, my purchase is driven by need to be an invisible person on the street.
It feels marvellous. So marvellous I am confident enough to have a conversation with strangers. And then I encounter Jonathan, a tall, young, athletic, dreadlocked street peddler. Or Terravon as he pitches himself.
He offers a CD. I decline.
‘It’s free.’ He says.
‘Sorry, I don’t have a player.’ I say & step into his space to shake his hand but divert to an elbow bump.
‘Free yourself from fear’ He said & raised his hand for a high five.
Our hand slaps seemed amplified. An elderly couple stare at us.
‘Jonathan. I do not live in fear. I am also comfortable with Public Health directives.’ I say raising my assassin style mask.
‘Come on,’ he says ‘call it what it is. Tyranny. It’s Tyranny, isn’t it?’
I begin to speak. He overruns me.
‘Sorry, I do not think it is.’ I say & walk away.
Jonathan shouts after me ‘You just can’t handle the truth.’
And I felt sad. So sad, that when I exited the Chemist I go back to him & say, ‘Jonathan, when the existing government are so corrupt that cronyism is rampant, that’s when the mark is overstepped.
He smiles & says ‘Exactly’
I walk towards the bus stop with an eerie echo of a friend beside me. Harvey Nicholls still has its yellow ‘Closed due to Covid 19’ banners in its windows. My friend reminds me of a Trinidadian, Joanna Lumley.
I picture her & myself enacting a rift from Absolutely Fabulous by the perfume counters. She would probably cuss me for even suggesting it. But then I have a perverse sense of humour. Sorry. Not sorry.
The route home is usually straightforward. Not wishing to wait an extra five minutes for a direct bus, I board one which would take me as far as the train station. The black driver seems surly, almost agitated when I speak to him.
‘Sorry, are you angry at me for asking a question?’
‘You’re supposed to get on further down.’
I offer to dismount & let him drive the bus to the stop. He shakes his head & I haul my heavy backside up to the second deck. Yes, I am plump now & slowly fading to grey in this wonderful, but slightly bizarre life.
Perched among passing autumnal trees, I question if my mask hindered communication with the driver. Is this why people who need visual cues feel conflicted about masks wearers?
The bus stops near the defunct Holy Cross church which appears to have a leaning tower. In reality it does not lean. It’s just perspective when viewed from afar.
Then a voice says ‘Nah mate. You ain’t giving me no change ticket.’
‘Sorry. I don’t have change. You can take a change ticket. Or wait for the next bus.’ Said the driver.
‘Nah. I not getting off. You ain’t giving me no change ticket.’
The interior lights of the bus go off & I haul my bulk down stairs.
‘I have change, if you need it.’
The young man has a just showered sheen & wants to go to Stockwood, to visit his daughter.
I am wearing my floral assassin style mask. He is clean shaven & the bottom deck is full of senior people. Very few are wearing masks. Also fine.
‘Nah. I don’t want your help. Keep outta this.’
I return to my seat. The man continues to harangue the driver.
Nothing new here, I think & lumber back down stairs.
A passenger checks his watch. sighs.
‘Excuse me. Why won’t you let me help you? You need to go Stockwood, to see your daughter. I have spinal problems & need to go home.’
‘Look! I don’t like your aggressive tone. I am recording this. I always record when I do business.’
I look at khaki crop trousers, hugging his femurs. The pockets are flat.
‘That’s fine.’ I say. ‘I am not being aggressive. This is why I said excuse me.’
One last time. I ask if I can help. He declines.
‘Fine. Get off the bus.’ I say & return to my seat.
What happens next is unclear. The engine starts. There are few more stops before the train station & my connection. As I dismount I thank the driver.
When the next bus arrives Shower Sheen Man is sat in a disabled seat, his back towards me.
‘Is okay luv. You can ‘ave this seat.’ He says
‘No, thanks. I may be disabled. But, I do not need your help.’
I use both hand rails to climb to the top deck. His little lamb voice says. ‘Oh you were on the other bus. Ain’t it weird?
Just before the penultimate stop I realise he is travelling in the wrong direction. Wherever he gets off would entail a long walk uphill to catch the correct bus.
Quiet, I wait for my destination to appear at the bottom of a steep hill.
I step down from the running board. An old man is talking to the driver about someone being ‘a dick’. It is the man who looked at his watch & sighed.
And our driver’s smile is like a new moon in a dark sky.
I breath leaf scented air. Happy.