Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bus W7 up Crouch Hill

The bus's back doors were sealed shut. The passengers, all rising from their seats started to look trapped and it was then I began to feel the early summer heat closing in on us. "Let us off the bus, open the door" chorused voices not used to exclaiming in public. I was mute - my body greedily absorbing the rising tension, alert to the possibility of an escalation.

The incident was unremarkable but the bus driver was firm in his response and shut down the engine. The bus seemed to die. The girls blocking the front entrance, only one of them in school uniform, insisted they were under 16 and should travel for free but they had no proof. I could neither see the bus driver nor hear his voice. He did not waver and people started to descend from the top deck, and threaten a little here and there, then look for a way out.

The girls were black. Then a black woman in her 50s, in the back started shouting that they can travel for free under 18. "Yes they can, they can" she insisted when a fellow passenger tried to contradict her. A black man descended and said: "I gotta go, man; I got work; lets go man." He sucked his lips in disapproval and started pacing the lower deck playing with his phone. Two Eastern European boys said one after the other, "Look I paid for a ticket; can you give me back my ticket?". The old Indian man leaning on his cane, across the aisle remained focused on the white baby in her white bonnet in the seat in front. Then there was more tutting and we were not far off panic I thought.

I stayed seated and watched people suddenly become more than passengers, become a little wretched and anxious and angry. The Eastern European boys stopped in the aisle and relieved their tension by caressing the baby's cheeks, caught in its innocent gaze. Another bus arrived, the school girls vanished. The bus started up and people around me now shiny with sweat fell back into their seats, an incident of rage and injustice averted. Again our impotence and silence. The Indian man patted the mother in front of him on her bare shoulders and said, not this stop, you need to wait for the next set of traffic lights. She nodded twice, thank you thank you, then turned to the man beside her, "Is it not this stop then for the 210?" Was she still not sure? "Your baby is lovely" I said and got off the bus smiling shyly.

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