The weather’s been good, so when I’ve not been working, house improving and struggling to sort out electricity bills, credit card apps and being the victim of financial impersonation – the bastards didn’t get anything but it leaves you feeling vulnerable and soiled – I’ve been spending time drinking and snacking while reading at the top of the garden, riding the bike and plunging into the cooling sea for swimming and frolics. We had my oldest daughter’s dog to stay for a couple of weeks too, so lots of early morning and late evening strolls around the neighbourhood equipped with copious amounts of poo bags and bum wipes. Yes, she insists that he has a delicate sphincter and needs to be thoroughly cleansed after each movement. I took them, I brought the pack home, but fuck me, I wasn’t going to be seen wiping a dog’s arse in public. There are some pretty hot dog walking women around here. Do I want them to think I wipe a guest dog’s backside every time it shits? No. I don’t even want them to picture me wiping my own arse. Though I do it, naturally. No clinker on me, girls!
Last Sunday I took my customary bus ride into Brighton, to revisit the scenes of ancient misdemeanors, as well as to stock up with delicacies at the Lebanese shop, browse the summer shirts and snack at the Greekatessen. Σουβλακι κοτοπουλο και πατατες!
So, laden down without and within, I made my way to the stop and boarded a bus for home. Enjoy the silence, the peace, the isolation.
A very basic mobile phone was thrust into my face.
“How do you put this on loudspeaker? I don’t know how it works”…A woman had sat herself next to me. I wanted to be alone. But I’m genetically compelled to help people.
“I don’t know either”, I said. I glanced across. She had dead, unblinking eyes and a nose which on a larger scale could be used for launching skiers into the bitter Alpine air. If it was somewhere closer to Switzerland than the South coast of England. A nose you wouldn’t want to be downwind of on a breezy day if its owner had a runny cold. The nostrils almost looked cloudward.
“Could you look at it? I’ve got to phone my friend, I’m supposed to meet her at a park, I don’t know why I can’t meet her at her house, I know where her house is, I don’t know where the park is, I can’t even remember what the park is called. What parks are there in Peacehaven?” Fuck me, no, I spasmed inwardly. It’s the return of the bus loony. When I was intermittently at college in the late seventies slash early eighties, I was inevitably the bus loony magnet. It’s like they sniff me out at eighty paces and get drawn to me. And talk at me. The sorry fuckers.
“So many problems!” I said. As the phone was resolutely held a mere few inches from my blameless face, I buckled and took it. Looked through the very limited menu and told her that she’d probably have to phone her friend and possibly, just possibly, an option for loudspeaker would appear.
“Can you phone her then? Her name’s Sherrie.” I was going to be lucky to get out of this one unscathed, I knew. So, a now broken man, I entered the Names list and couldn’t find a Sherrie, then went into reverse and found a Cherree. I bet that’s not how it appears on her birth certificate. I pressed “call” and handed the phone back.
“Okay, there you go, see ya,” I said, indicating an empty seat across the aisle with my eyes, more in hope than expectation. She was glued to the fucking seat though. More chance of her moving than the shit stains on my daughter’s dog’s arse.
“Sherrie? Is that you?” then turning to me she said “answerphone” and looked panicky. She had the presence of mind to speak into the phone and I thought I could hear electric circuits six miles away winceing. On the left hand side of the inch square screen was the legend “h’sfree” so I impulsively jabbed at the button below.
“There,” I said. “Loudspeaker. That’s how you do it.” She didn’t thank me. She finished her conversation with the answerphone. Now it was my turn again.
“I don’t know why I can’t go to her house” she repeated. I fucking know why she doesn’t want you there and I’ve only just met you, I thought, bitterly. And I don’t want you sitting next to me on a bus talking to me. “What park do you think she means? What parks are there?”
“There’s the Dell, then Epinay, Chatsworth, Piddinghoe, no it’s the Big Park now, and another one I think…” her phone rang. I wondered why I was not getting off at the next stop and waiting for another bus. One without Dawna on it.
“Sherrie? Sherrie? It’s Dawna (that’s how she said it) I’m on the bus now. I’ll see you soon, would it be easier if…don’t get stressed Sherrie, no, don’t cry, I’ll see you soon ok bye” God’s honest truth I’d be fucking crying too if I was Sherrie. Or Cherree.
“So what park should I meet her at?” She had turned and fixed me with the cold stare of confusion and despair.
I asked her where in town her friend lived and she told me. It must be the Big Park I thought. That would be nearest. Also easier to avoid someone there if you had second thoughts about a rendezvous. Though I wouldn’t even have first thoughts about rendezvousing with Dawna. Fuck me no. So I suggested she go to that park.
“So what stop do I need for that one then?” Why me? How fucking evil must I have been to deserve this?
“It’ll either be Piddinghoe, Mayfield or Seaview. Maybe Slindon? One of the Aves. If the bus stops at any of them. I’m sure it must. Somewhere near here anyway. If you sit over the other side of the bus you’ll see. And you’ll see the big roadside sign pointing the way to the Big Park. You just get off, walk along a bit and take any left turn and you can’t miss it, if you get lost I’m sure there will be someone about to point the way…” I felt mentally lame, like there was a caliper where my moral fibre should be.
“Walk along a bit? What way? Do you think I’ll get lost? I thought you said you knew how to get there? I’m not good if I get lost” And you wouldnt be much of a fucking prize to find, either, I reflected inwardly. She said it so accusingly that I actually felt a bit guilty, a touch inadequate. Then. The most appalling stench suddenly filled the air and I gagged.
“Do you know if there’s a stomach upset going around?” she asked without a hint of embarrassment. I was heaving silently, and said “no, not so far as I know but it could be getting closer”, and then felt a sudden flood of relief and joy as I realised where we were.
“There’s your stop, Mayfield. Just ring the bell and get off, hurry! Take any left turn, it’s not far!” I had become The Gabbler.
Without a word of thanks or apology for the twenty minutes of distress she had caused me, the woman made her way to the front of the bus. In the seat in front of mine was a lovely tall black woman dressed in an orange and purple top and tight black jeans. She looked like a hot walking advert for Premier Inns and/or Sainsburys. She turned and gave me a beautiful pitying smile, then stood and followed the bus loony off the bus. Her way was blocked by the woman arguing with the driver about whether this was the best stop to get off at to meet Sherrie. Or Cherree. I’d given up caring. I was just thinking how nice it would have been to share the journey with someone else, and how nice that in a few minutes I’d be in another town and it would all be no more than a memory, safely behind me.