You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of car they drive. I haven’t got a car. I like buses because all human life is there. But that means really all forms of it, which sometimes one would prefer to avoid.
Altercations often happen on my bus. I stare into a phone just like everyone else. Eye contact can be fatal. We all try to pretend that the rows that are happening in front of us are on some distant screen. Except for those who like the show.
“Look at that, love,” said a woman next to me the other day. “They’re having an argument. That pushchair is bollocking that wheelchair. Disgusting.”
I took an “urgent” call.
“See, I don’t think it’s fair on the wheelchair.”
I didn’t know whether to nod sympathetically or to point out that people in wheelchairs are not actually called wheelchairs.
Sometimes, though, you know not to talk to the person sitting next to you. Nor even to look at them. You can’t hear their inner voices but you can get a sniff of them. It’s a familiar smell.
I sat next to one such man a while back and immediately knew. I kept looking straight down, but then I made the big mistake: I glanced out of the window, which was vaguely in his direction.
“That’s it,” he murmured. “I am going to have to drop you.”
“I don’t want to. I know what they will do to me, but you saw me.”
His voice was getting louder.
“You saw inside me. I am going to have to do it.”
He was rocking now and was very agitated. I kept my eyes away from his and hoped that someone else would help me.
“You can’t kill me,” I blurted out. “It will make me late.”
I had no idea what I was saying but this was running through my mind. Being murdered would mean I’d miss my appointment.
“Late. You’re late?”
“I’m late already. Please don’t make it worse.”
“But you seen me now. You seen me. I have to!”
He was shouting at me now. The bus was full. Everyone carried on swiping at their phone.
“Help me,” I said directly to a man standing by me. In a self-defence class, I’d been taught that it’s better to ask one person for help than to scream randomly.
“What’s up, love?”
“I’m gonna have to drop her. They’re telling me to,” explained the guy next to me.
“Boyfriend problems, yeah?”
“He’s threatening to kill me.”
“Sorry, love. This is my stop.”
A gang of boys got on. They were loud and threatening but so was the man next to me.
Something connected. My would-be killer and the boys clocked each other. They all saw inside each other. They all rushed off the bus at the same time. There would be terrible, terrible violence, I knew that.
But I would not be late.