Fate

73. 7.30pm. Standing by the door.

Sometimes, living in London, I feel as though I am on a film set. The set of one of those gritty Channel 4 films about living in London.

I was on a crowded bus going up the slow hill from Kings Cross to Angel. A teenaged boy in school uniform got on with a small gang of friends. They had been in a chicken-and-chip shop behind the bus stop buying some dinner. As the boys got on, we heard a yell from inside the chicken-and-chip shop. ‘HEY! I told you to wait for me!’ Another teenaged boy in the same school uniform emerged, red in the face with rage. There was still time to jump off the bus, but the first boy, our hero, hesitated for slightly too long and the doors closed. I’m sure the rest of us were all thinking the same things in succession: ‘That’s a bit of an overreaction!’ and ‘Good call. That boy looked properly pissed off, I wouldn’t have faced him either.’

The bus pulled away from the stop, but the heavy traffic meant that we could move forward only a few metres. The angry boy, now flanked by further teenaged boys, started to follow the bus, hurling abuse at our hero. We moved forward a few more metres. The boys followed, now hitting the side of the bus as well as shouting. Our hero stood his ground, and at first didn’t display any clear emotion. His companions arranged themselves protectively around him, as if the angry boy might break through the bus windows.

The climb up the hill was tortuous. Every few metres we came to a standstill, and every few metres the boys outside resumed their hitting and shouting. At the next bus stop there was a collective intake of breath: was the angry boy going to launch in and hurt our hero? But he just stood outside and continued to scream, his face now purple. Our hero started to look frightened. He didn’t make a move to leave the bus. The doors closed and we carried on, painfully slowly, trying to shake off our monstrous pursuers.

At the next bus stop the doors opened. The angry boy remained outside but his insults took on a new colour. We heard the word ‘coward’. Our hero made as if to get off the bus – and as one we all cried, ‘No, it’s not worth it! Leave it! Leave it!’ His friends held him back, and the doors closed again.

The angry boy and his posse receded into the distance as we finally hit a clear run of road.

But then, at the final bus stop before Angel, our hero stepped off the bus and started walking down the hill towards his tormentors. He did this despite our pleas, and the pleas of his friends. It was as if he had resigned himself to his fate. The bus turned a corner so we couldn’t see what happened to him, but the look on his face as he got off the bus told us he was expecting the worst.

All over a perceived slight in front of a chicken-and-chip shop. I wish I could tell you I made this up.

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