She was sat on the top deck of the bus. The tinny dance music poured out of her phone. It wasn’t quite loud enough to be antisocial by local standards, but the inhabitants of the top deck had been in England long enough to be socialised into ignoring her anyway.
Dressed in a tracksuit and swigging from a bottle claiming to contain an energy drink, she had found what she felt to be a kindred spirit: sat a few rows ahead. Greasy hair, slicked back. Eyes not quite all there.
“Are you having a good night?” She asked. He twisted himself round to half face her.
“Well you know, it’s not bad I suppose. Can’t complain.” The words came out stuck together.
They talked about their respective love lives. He was ‘sort of’ seeing a girl in Brixton. She was on her way to see her fella in Streatham. She was east end, “born and bred”, but her home of Whitechapel was “full of Pakis.” The surrounding tension went up a notch.
“But I shouldn’t call them that. They’re Bengalis.”
There followed a brief bigotry interlude: how they come over here for a life of luxury while she can’t even get a secure hostel. But it was racism by numbers, half remembered phrases. Her heart didn’t seem to be in it. It was just what you said. The man looked away, out of the window. She was drifting badly. She tried again.
“What sort of stuff do you do? I think you’re like me. Me and you are the same.”
“Well you know…” All of his sentences started with these three words, slurred into one, a kind of wry apology for whatever was to follow.
“Bit of weed, bit of brown, you know how it is.”
“I do, sweetheart.”