59. 9.30pm. Bottom deck, right at the back.
It was raining heavily and the bus was packed to the rafters. Steam fogged up the windows, and the cramped space was filled with the voices of disparate people on their mobile phones – a Dutch woman speaking animatedly, running the gamut of emotions, with only one comprehensible (to me) phrase: ‘in American law…’; a designer workshopping a concept with his partner with a lot of (I suppose unnecessary) hand gestures; a businesswoman discussing a redundancy she had had to make earlier in the day.
These voices were all but swept away by the star of the evening, an older lady in an oversize mac and bobble hat, who burst onto the busy bus muttering to herself about the irritating people blocking her way. As she came closer to where I was sitting, I got a clearer signal onto her stream of words:
‘There’s more psychos and perverts on this bus than all the Albanians, Yugoslavian drug traffickers – who by the way were used by the KGB as enforcers; I had a Yugoslav boyfriend for two years and I lived with two Italians and they didn’t know each other and they both told me about the KGB connection – there are more psychos on this bus than all of that. Especially him -‘ here she pointed in a completely unsubtle way at the man sitting next to her, who pretended not to notice.
‘If my sixth-form son behaved like that – I put him through five years of international school and he’s a real gent, I tell you. I know!’ – her voice got louder – ‘I’ve worked at Homerton, I’ve seen it all. There was a Somali man once who started stroking my hair – it’s called Taking Liberties. I’m from the East End, I told him I’d lay him in! I’ve been in thirty-four countries and I respect the mores of those countries. It’s true! I – what’s that? Yes, you want to get off at the next stop, watch out for the roundabout, when I drove a taxi in Sydney I always watched out for the roundabouts.’
Was there anything this woman hadn’t done?
‘Yes, get off here, ask in the shop, you’ll be alright in this area…’ she lowered her voice but really not that much, ‘because you’re not a woman. I’m not kidding! People like him,’ she said, pointing at her neighbour again.
Priceless rainy evening entertainment.