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     Volume 7 Issue 27 | July 4, 2008 |

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A Motley Crew

Nadia Kabir Barb

London is famous for many things and a familiar sight would have to be the red double-decker buses weaving through the busy streets of the city. Being a regular passenger on these behemoths, one thing I can tell you is that a bus ride can be at times monotonous and boring but more likely to be rather eventful especially when the people travelling on them are so cosmopolitan. You never know what drama or soap opera you may be stepping into!

The first thing you have to know about London buses is that they generally never run on time and when they finally appear, they seem to travel in multiples. So it can be mildly irritating after waiting half an hour to find that not one but two or three arriving at the same time. Okay to give London transport some credit, things have been much better in the last year or so but I would never use the bus to make it on time for an appointment or meeting. That to me would be slightly foolhardy. There are also some tips I have picked up to make the journey less tiresome that it might be. One thing is I never sit on the top floor of the bus. One may point out that at least when you are on the top deck of the bus you have a view of the city to break the monotony of the journey but you also have hordes of teenagers and adolescents shouting and making a racket. The other point to keep in mind is not to sit in any of the front seats as they are meant for elderly or disabled passengers. Sitting right at the back is a safe option most of the time.

The other day I decided to take the bus instead of the car as I was in no real hurry and did not want the added hassle of finding a parking space etc. and ironically the bus appeared the minute I arrived at the bus stop (it never seems to happen when you are running late or are in a hurry). Fortunately for me it was relatively empty inside so I made myself comfortable right at the back. Sadly this did not last for very long. A few stops later there was a sudden influx of passengers and to my dismay they were a group of fifteen/sixteen year olds. Not that I have anything against teenagers (especially since I harbour one in my own house!) but they can be quite loud and when they are in a group, slightly intimidating. Well this group proved me right --- some of them got in from the front and the others sneaked in from the door at the back meant for exiting passengers but what was worse is, instead of heading upstairs, they sat right in front of me and around me. I tried my hardest to impersonate the invisible woman as I really did not want any trouble. They started talking to each other at painfully loud decibels and every other word was a swear word which inadvertently made me frown. They obviously needed to improve their vocabulary! After a painful twenty minutes of having listened to a whole range of teenage angst and blatantly exaggerated bravado, they got off (Yay!).

However, the euphoria was short lived. A man in a dirty raincoat got on the bus and I noticed the passengers squirming in their seats. It only took me moments to realise the cause for their discomfort. The smell emanating from the poor man was unbearable. My gag reflexes were hyperactive and I, like many others, had my hand over my nose. The girl who had been on the bus even before I had embarked looked at me and reached into her bag and produced a little bottle of perfume. She sprayed a little on herself and then silently offered it to me. I can tell you it was more than gratefully received. The boy next to me appeared to make a quick escape and almost ran out of the bus but what that meant was the seat next to me was now vacant. To my horror the man in the raincoat spotted it and stumbled towards it. The perfume I had sprayed was proving to be a godsend. Normally people like to avoid eye contact on public transport and look away as soon as they think you might catch them observing you but not our hobo. He turned to me and baring his hideously yellow teeth said, “Hello darlin'”. I think I have never been so close to asphyxiation by bad breath as on this occasion. This was one time where sitting at the back had backfired quite spectacularly. Luckily we only had to endure the stink for another two stops and the moment the doors closed behind him the whole bus heaved a sigh of relief.

I looked at the girl with the perfume to thank her again but she was busy applying make up oblivious to the interested looks she was getting. I watched her for a while and was thoroughly impressed with the way she deftly put her mascara on regardless of the movement of the bus and observed her through the corner of my eye while she took out her lip gloss and applied it. The stares of her companions did not faze her in the slightest. Even in the comfort of my own home I would not have been able to do as expert a job as she did on the bumpy, jerky bus ride!

The last leg of the journey was much more crowded and I was privy to a conversation between two women discussing the unprofessional behaviour of their boss who did not sound like a very savoury character. One of the ladies exclaimed that carrying on with his personal assistants was one thing but to then put all their clandestine dinners and god knows what else on his expense account was downright dishonest. It was on the tip of my tongue to voice my outrage and agree with them but thought better of it. The seat next to me had now been taken by a man in a heavy overcoat next to me and there was a whiff of expensive aftershave coming from him as opposed to alcohol, urine, vomit... He was deeply engrossed in a heated conversation with his wife and despite the fact that I tried very hard to blank out the argument taking place beside me, I failed. I could only hear one side of the argument but my fellow passenger did not seem remotely pleased with what was being said on the other end. At one point I thought he might throw his phone on the floor and stamp on it. The things you unintentionally overhear on a bus can at times be amusing at other times embarrassing and on this occasion rather uncomfortable.

I had been so involved with the drama taking place around me, I nearly missed my stop. As the red double decker bus drove off with the rest of the motley passengers still onboard, I wondered what other stories would unfold...


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