On the Buses

I’m standing at the bus stop. Waiting. For the number 29. I look about me but unseeingly, eyes glazed in post-meetinged, post-memoed, post-spreadshat vacancy. I stand and enjoy the still. Still, I travel into my thoughts. I notice the cold, but I’m not bothered, wrapped in my mother’s old sheepskin coat, yet another hand-me-down from the 1970s. Is it weird that I’m still wearing my mother’s clothes from the 1970s? I wonder what times they have seen in their two lives.  I think of those clothes I felt I couldn’t share –  a hand-made dress so unfeasibly short, my mum-made matching pants. I smile: at my mum; at the word ‘pants’. 

I think about my dinner. A waft of coriander comes up from my bag: an impulse buy from the cornershop, crushed between dirty Tupperware and Nancy Friday (it’s a book club book, obviously). I’ll blend the leaves in huge quantities with garlic and lemon and oil and dip bread in it – fresh naan from the shop round the corner –  the one that only sells naan. How can it only sell naan? And the last time I went in there, they were totally sold out. Why were they even open if they were sold out?  It must be a front. Perhaps I’ll have fish fingers.

I look up the street. No sign of the bus, but I like waiting here. I like waiting for the bus. No matter how much I want it to arrive, no matter how late I am, the bus comes when it comes. Breathing a sigh of relief, I wait. In the full and certain knowledge of my cosmic insignificance, I wait. Knowing I am not the protagonist at the centre of this narrative, I wait. I am left to my own thoughts – unencumbered by urgency and steadily resisting the parasitic call of the plasma screen.

How rarely I inhabit my own head. I revel in my insularity: watching, eavesdropping, thinking. Threatened by the very idea of interaction, as if paralysed. Dannie Abse’s voice comes into my head from an interview I heard this morning: ‘I’ve often been in a state of mental paralysis and maybe that’s what led to writing poetry … I have to prove to myself that I’m alive.’ Mental paralysis. That sounds bad. Although, going Cartesian, I think therefore I am, then I am, and I am not paralysed, am I? A thought tugs the corners of my mouth, downwards. I am thinking of my granddad, of his terrified recognition of forgetfulness. ‘I don’t know the man I’m shaving’ he jokes. He does, still. So far. He remembers that he can’t remember, and he passes the time because it must pass. As I stand and wait I remember how I have wasted time. I make plans to prove to myself that I’m alive: plans that are easy behind this fourth wall. Resolutions that make me who I want to be at this moment. I’ll write more. I’ll visit my family more. I’ll travel. I’ll seriously consider giving up contraception. 

I hear a couple approaching.  ‘… but I love you Carol, I always have and I always will.’ They are both gaunt, toothy, sallow. ‘You stole my methadone!’ is Carol’s surprising response. For a moment, I have a window into a totally different world.  I wonder what it is like on their side of it. I see their lank hair and the dirt under their nails. They oscillate between screaming at each other and propping themselves up on each other. I am suddenly embarrassed of my waiting. I ‘wait’ because I have somewhere to go. My waiting has purpose, my stillness is just a pause. ‘You Stole My Methadone.’ She repeats, emphasising each word. His professions of love are incessant. They are so public. This circular conversation is on its third or fourth revolution as they stumble past the bus stop.

Still no sign of the omnibus. 

I shuffle my feet. They really aren’t sufficiently insulated. When will spring come?  I feel like I can no longer imagine it. Perpetual winter, sleet, snow, huge heating bills, socks in bed, carb-loading: all these things have erased my memory of warmer times. I think of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: ‘How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?’ How can someone in unending winter imagine spring? Then I ask myself if I have just compared myself to a man in the Gulag. I feel sheepish in my sheepskin. 

Where is this sodding bus? I hear the sound of a heavier automobile only to find it’s a Tesco delivery van: ‘Freshly Clicked’. My bus will come. That is the unwritten contract of the bus stop. 

Suddenly tired and aware of my immobility, I stretch. Hands at the base of my spine, back-arched. I catch sight of myself in the reflection of the bus stop ad, stretching in the posture of Millais’ Mariana. I see the painting in my mind’s eye. The deep imperial blue of her dress, the beautiful lines of her curves, the autumn leaves: her diminishing youth scattered around her. I think of her waiting. Not the pathetic and shoe-horned fate of her forebear in Measure for Measure, but the waiting of Millais’ inspiration: Tennyson’s Mariana.

                She only said, ‘The night is dreary,
                                  He cometh not,’ she said
                She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
                                  I would that I were dead!’

The rhyme is so final. I’ve got to stop reading Victorians. They bring out the sentimental in me. What a fate – to wait forever on a man. How unmodern. He does not come. All else is tainted by his absence as she faithfully, painfully waits. You wonder how long she has been waiting like this. In the ever decreasing hope of the arrival. Futilely and stubbornly. Like a science experiment that tests the credulity of its subjects: testing how long until they give up and accept the inevitable; how long before their brain’s insistent logic takes over their powers of belief. And then I look at the sign of the bus stop. My eyes travel up to the top. And I laugh out loud – the night is dreary. It cometh not. BUS STOP NOT IN USE. Bugger.