35. Bottom deck, right at the back.
I had been on an ‘urban pilgrimage’ around Shoreditch devised by a writer friend of mine. I had spent most of it in a marvellously meditative state, my friend’s disembodied voice guiding me (through headphones) around the jumbled streets.
I emerged near the Monument and boarded a 35 to go home. Perhaps it was because I had been more or less silent for two hours, but it seemed to me that this particular 35 was much chattier than usual. Everyone was talking to everyone else: a middle-aged woman in a puffer-jacket leaned over to wonder very loudly why there were so many tourists around Southwark Cathedral; a small girl in a Finding Nemo T-shirt struck up a conversation with the stranger behind her – a girl in a headscarf who was eating cold chips out of a plastic box; an elderly black man started offering advice to a white lady with bright red hair about where to get off the bus; the whole bottom deck exploded with teeth-kissing and chatter when the bus pulled in at a stop and didn’t set off again for an entire unexplained minute.
A beautiful mixed-race woman with long pink-tinged braids got on, trailing a boy and a girl, who were wearing matching red, yellow and green striped shoes. The woman instantly caught the bus’s chatting bug and began to speak into not one but two mobile phones simultaneously.
I turned to the girl, who was now sitting next to me and had put on a pair of 3D cinema glasses. She looked like she might be able to make sense of this chatty new world. She opened her mouth:
‘S-U-N spells yes. N-O spells yes.’
When she noticed that I was watching her, she paused and visibly reset herself:
‘Y-E-S spells yes. N-O spells no. S-U-N spells sun.’
The bus exhaled. Things began to calm down. But just as I felt normal service had resumed, the bus stopped to change drivers and the engine went dead. As we waited in silence for a new driver, the girl suddenly took off her 3D glasses and uttered these words which I leave for you to decipher:
‘Yes means yeses. Sun means sons. No means nose. Or means orders.’