Bus stop for the 168. 6pm.

My bus had been speedier than expected so I was a few minutes early for my evening engagement. I got off the 168 and decided to sit on the bus stop’s red bench and finish leafing through my Evening Standard. A little girl appeared next to me – three years old (so she told me), wearing bright pink trousers and her hair in tight, frizzy bunches. She was struggling to get up onto the bench. I watched her for a bit and then allowed myself to lift her up, gently placing her next to me. I looked around for a paranoid parent but couldn’t see anyone.

‘Where’s your family?’ I said.

‘My mum’s over there,’ she said, pointing off to our right, quite a way away, where a woman was standing with a pram.

‘She’s a bit far,’ I said.

‘She’s with my sister.’

‘Your sister is very small, isn’t she?’

A solemn nod. ‘My mum spends all day with her.’

She didn’t sound bitter; it was just a (no doubt fair) observation.

We sat in companionable silence for a while, I trying not to take my horoscope seriously and she playing with the grooves in the bench’s surface.

After a while she looked up at me and said, ‘Where are your friends?’

Slightly dumbfounded, I began searching for a way to explain that I did have friends (I did, I really did) but that they were in other parts of town, and that I was in this neighbourhood to volunteer with a charity but I was running slightly early and I didn’t think it was that weird to sit in a bus stop reading a newspaper by myself to kill some time. Before I had a chance to formulate any of this, however, the girl’s bus arrived and her mother called her over to help with the pram.

The encounter did make me reflect on how important it is to know where your friends are, you know, in life – in this busy city it’s so easy to float along in parallel without making genuine contact. Call a friend today and ask them how they are!


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