Whilst journeying to and from Vauxhall for the most enjoyable work experience placement in a children’s publishing house, I have had the absolute pleasure of observing humans and the way we interact or rather, don’t interact with each other. Because we, myself included, have very little regard for those strangers around us. I’m the first to complain, getting an A* in my moaning GCSE, but I do like to think that as a writer and as someone who actively makes notes on the people I encounter, I have some level of empathy or interest in my fellow commuters.
It’s bizarre, don’t you think, that you see the same people on the bus, the train, the tube, everyday and yet you never exchange a word beyond the odd grunt of ‘scuse me’ with a ‘please’ shoved on the end. If your lucky. Yet we are all people. We all have lives and families and desires. Essentially we all want the same things; success, love, happiness. It appears that only the odd few are prepared to pick up your glove if you drop it, only some will offer you their seat if your on crutches. Only some.
The rest of us, pout and chew out cheeks, scowling at the grey train lino, deafening ourselves with melancholy tunes or burying our heads in tales about different people, in different places and different times. We rarely look out of our own lives, our own struggles and own issues sometimes. I don’t exclude myself from this. In any way shape or form; I’m as guilty as the next person.
But I still find it sad that I can’t smile at people, for fear of looking creepy or them thinking I fancy them. Also when I was a little teary eyed on the tube on Thursday night, having reluctantly finished my placement, sniffing and blinking back salt water, no one asked if I was ok. Or what was the matter. And why should they, I’m hardly forthcoming with concern for these people.
But it did make me think. And when I think, I tend to write:
He saw her everyday. Everyday without fail at around a quarter past six, she’d stand there tapping her feet and shifting her body slowly from side to side, like a muffled sway, either in some effort to keep warm or from some uncontrollable urge to dance to the tunes blaring from her headphones. He didn’t know and he wasn’t about to ask her either. He just watched her quietly and waited for the 213. Which was scheduled to arrive in 27 long cold minutes. He could get any bus, any bus at all but he chose to wait, all the while convincing himself that this was more direct. It took him almost to his door. But the truth was he could jump on another bus and be home well before the 213 deigned to arrive. He looked at her, then at the electronic bus timetable. She tutted loudly and marched up the hill, probably in the direction of Wilkinson’s to purchase her daily flump marshmallow. Her ebony hair flew up around the brim of her green woolly hat, like some elaborate fan and she swung her bag round, narrowly missing an elderly man waddling behind her.
Having lost sight of her and the feeling in his fingertips, he reluctantly boarded a different bus, heading home for warmth and some much needed food. Tomorrow was another day, he had time.
The 213 arrived and everyone clambered on. She’d been in front of him in the queue today and they’d ended up squeezed together by the door. Her hat was skew whiff and her hair caught on her glossed lip. She rummaged in her bag rather awkwardly attempting, he believed, to find her book. But after several huffs and puffs she admitted defeat and stood there looking thoroughly unimpressed. Maybe she’d had a bad day. She had no headphones in today, perhaps she forgotten to charge her iPod or left it at home. She looked a little less confident without her commuting soundtrack, more exposed to the variety of sounds that the bus had to offer. Screaming children. The chatter of youth in scruffy ties, knots wider than the school uniform policy specified. The thud and tinny echo of a hooded chav huddled in the darkest recesses of the bus, his feet up on the back of the seat, his eyes so hard for someone so young. The tut of old ladies as their laps were knocked by the swing of rucksacks and the buses familiar hiss, whirr and screech of breaks. The bus lurched forward through the cold December eve, jolting and lurching occasionally allowing for a speed bump or a suicidal pedestrian running across the road; one arm laden with five wrapping paper tubes, the other clutching at an assortment of carrier bags, the paper one splitting with the pressure of making it to the other side in one piece.
All of a sudden the entire standing body of the bus rippled forward, like some fluid Mexican wave and the yellow poles groaned from the tight grasp of the heavier passengers. The more inexperienced bus dwellers buckled under the pressure of staying up right, knocking some one slightly and then oozing apology. But what goes forward must come back, especially with this rusty driver.
He fell into her and the reverberation threw her head back on to the glass sheet behind her, separating the priority seats from the commoners. Public transports version of an elite box, only minus the opera. He winced, his eyes half closed, but now was his chance.
‘I’m so sorry! Are you alright?’
She rubbed her head and smiled.
‘That’s alright, I’m fine!’
He offered her a sheepish smile and that was it. He really ought to have extended the conversion, he ought to have made some casual, generic comment about feeling like a sardine in a briny tin. In this sea of people, densely packed, stacked in an odorous vacuum. But he didn’t and the smiled faded from his lips and he looked at what he could see of his feet. She’d taken her hat off now, examining the sore spot on the back of her head with cautious fingers.
Soon enough the bus came to a halt and she hopped down, waving to the driver. She walked head down, her body pulled tight, shoulders hunched as a defense against the bitter chill in the air. The bus doors beeped for a good while and slammed shut almost catching an irritating year sevens nose, as he tried to defy the doors mechanics, spurred on by his unruly peers. The bus was less crowded now, more floor available. So he walked forward into her recently vacated space, examining the glass veil for an imprint of her head. It was coated with sticky fingers prints, thick-set with various, mingled DNA. His feet met something soft, he looked down expecting to find a child’s glove but was met with a green pom pom he had come to know all to well. Stooping down he picked her green hat up, his eager eyes caught site of the River Island label on which she had etched her name – Jemima- in black scrawly calligraphy. He liked it, the old fashioned, uniqueness suited her. Perfectly.
He had tomorrow.
He sat at the bus stop waiting for her to arrive. Tapping his feet nervously and squeezing the green wool in his hands. She’d turn up soon, although she was late. Quite late. He looked at his watch. 6:23. The bus would be here in 2. And she wasn’t there. Maybe she’d contracted some terrible head cold. Heat rises after all.
She was there. First today. He had to go straight to her or it would look weird if he plucked the hat from his bag and presented it to her mid journey. He plucked up the courage from goodness knows where and walked towards her.
‘Hi. Umm…you left your hat on the bus on Wednesday.’ He held out the emerald hat and her face lit up with relief.
‘Oh my goodness, thank you so much! That’s amazing, I really thought I’d lost it.’ She held it to her chest briefly and then shoved it on her head.
He smiled, his heart warmed by her excitement at the garment reunion.
‘Well, now your head won’t get cold. I can’t believe it was snowing earlier.’
‘No, I know, it was madness.’
They made small talk until the bus came and then sat down together for the duration of the journey. He couldn’t believe his luck, the crowded bus had brought him this time with Jemima. No, it was a sheep that had given him this. An innocent little sheep had been attacked with a shaver and its coat had been spun and wound into wool, which had been dyed and knitted and bought by River Island. He had many to thank for this delightful journey. But it was over too soon, for she rose up and said;
‘Well, see you Monday! Thanks for finding this!’ She waved her hat at him and jumped off the bus. And straight into the arms of a guy in a blue gilet and chinos. She showed him the hat and he ruffled her hair and kissed her forehead. Then they walked away, lithely, hands entwined. She was bouncing along the pavement with him, full of the weeks events, laughing and throwing her ebony hair back and it flailed in the wind.
He vowed to never get the 213 again. Then shoved his headphones in and turned the melancholy melodies to full blast.
(Written by me, Bee Pea. Or Rebecca Palmer, as that is my real name.)
People have lives beyond the shared journey. Their hats were probably given to them by loved ones. We just don’t know. But there is no harm in being kind, in being friendly and in smiling. No, there is no harm in that at all; only good things can come from it.