171. 8pm. Top deck, left side.
We pulled in to the bus stop just before Elephant & Castle roundabout. It normally takes a long time to get through this section of the route because so many people change to and from trains and the Tube, and then there’s the market and the university spewing out passengers carrying massive bags. From upstairs I could hear the various negotiations that punctuate bus journeys in London – requests for bus stop information, pleading about fares, Oyster card malfunctions, passengers grumpily moving out of the way for prams and wheelchairs and dogs.
After a few minutes the talking and the bustling ceased, but the bus didn’t move. A silence settled on us like a dust. Was the driver locked in a staring match with someone downstairs? Was there a jaywalker in the way ahead of us? Perhaps – a flash of irritation – we were terminating? Then, the voice of a female passenger:
‘You need to turn left here.’