Sunday, June 20, 2010

Encounters on a London Bus.

Let me take you back to a rainy April evening. London is shivering in the drizzle that characterises late spring, early summer, and the rest, and my bus home is finally approaching the bus stop. An orderly queue forms and a long line of sodden commuters boards. Just as the doors close and the bus is about to leave, a man runs alongside, shouting to be let on. He's a man I recognise - not because I know him but because he gets this bus at the same time every day (oh, how sad my routine has become!). He's around forty, I would say, and he has a mental disability. Although he manages to get on, he spills some tea as he pays for his ticket. The driver tells him that the bus isn’t going anywhere until he finishes, or gets rid of, the drink - “in the interest of health and safety“. The man has just bought the drink and doesn‘t want to throw it away, so stands by the driver‘s seat downing the boiling hot tea as fast as he can. A surreal situation to witness; in fact, not just surreal, but really, really awkward.

So, the man finishes his tea. A sarcastic old coot pretends to cheer. I find this unnecessary and shoot her an evil look. However, ashamed as I am to admit it, as the man walks up the aisle towards me, I’m really hoping he won’t talk to me.
[I promise you, I am intensely ashamed of myself, and beg you not to think too harshly of me. I'm actually tempted to start this post again and paint myself in glorious, saintly light - but I've started, so I'll finish.]

He stops in front of me, wedging himself into the only bit of standing room left. And he does talk to me. My first thought is that I have my earphones on and so could quite easily pretend I can't hear a word he’s saying but, although my cunning earphone plan has worked in the past, something stops me from ignoring him this time. .

What‘s stopping me? Common decency, perhaps? A flicker of life in my heart of stone?

Finally, I decide not to be a complete . I take off my earphones and engage in conversation.

"Anything for a quiet life," he says, and rolls his eyes. I laugh. Minutes later we’re chatting about football, about where he used to live and the time he saw David Beckham. In all honesty, I can't hear a lot of what he’s saying - I think it’s the damage to my ears caused by the near constant wearing of earphones - but he chats away and I can just about cling to the gist of the story if I try.

A few minutes later, I reach my stop. I tell him I'm getting off and he tells me to have a nice evening. And I did have a nice evening - mostly due to having cast aside my miserable outlook on life and engaged in conversation with someone who I would normally, in ignorance, have avoided. I suppose that what this post is actually about is what he gave me, rather than what I gave him. Yes, I spoke to him and nobody else did, but I’m not arrogant enough to assume that this made his day. He did make mine though, by reminding me that I don’t have to be another stern face among a million commuters - another grey suit on another grey day. Since then, inspired by this one flash of colour in an otherwise monotone month, I’ve tried even harder to bury the city cynic I’ve become, throwing myself whole-heartedly into being a friendlier, more helpful and less selfish man about town. So thanks for your help, Mr Bus Man.


Tom started a blog on his 25th birthday so that he could record the weird and sometimes wonderful things he thinks about but never articulates in real life. He loves London, where he lives and works, as well as reading, procrastination and the feeling he gets when somebody out there understands the drivel he plucks from his brain. Tom blogs at TBR Tangential.

Read. Think. Discuss. Act.


Anonymous said...

Great story! Glad you broke out of your shell.

Here in Cancun I take taxis everyday. Some days I try to ignore the taxi drivers, but other days I just give in to the conversation... it's awesome to get to know people you wouldnt normally talk to.

Anonymous said...

Now that I pretty much ride my cycle everywhere, I miss the commute. I miss people-watching and maybe striking up a conversation with random people. I once had some little old lady talk to me about Indian culture for twenty minutes after I gave her my seat. She was the former Philippine Ambassador to India's wife!
I'm glad he gave you a flash of colour. I'll probably stop and ask you for directions now. :P

Post a Comment