Friday, November 19, 2010

All Change, Please

"This country's seen better days," says the old lady on the bus again, as she steps past us all to alight, tutting to herself. She is wearing a fluorescent shell suit and plenty of gold jewellery. We're speeding up Brixton Hill towards Streatham.

She's just witnessed the same altercation we all have: it's between an overweight, ruddy lady in her forties who clearly needs to cool off, and the small crowd of people (two Spanish dudes in their 20s, chatting away animatedly, an older Rasta man, and the aforementioned old lady) sitting on the back seats behind her who have been getting a chill every time she opens the window. 

The window opens. We all feel a blast of icy air. It's well after the Friday evening rush hour and the bus driver is going like the clappers, so it feels breezier than it is. It's open maybe a minute and a half before one of the young Spaniards sitting behind the ruddy lady closes it.

It shuts loudly. (Is there any other way of closing a bus window?)

The ruddy lady looks back in annoyance, but her neck is a bit fat and she can't really see who has closed it. The Spaniards stare back in open defiance. You can hear silent cheers from the others on the back seats. 

She opens it again, but no less than five seconds pass and -WHUMP- it has been shut again. The window is cleverly positioned so that both she and the young Spaniard sitting behind her can control its opening and closing. This little pantomime happens maybe three or four times. You can almost hear the audience joining in.

"OH YES it is open!"

"OH NO it isn't!"

"Can you STOP closing the window, PLEASE?" The fat lady says, in a schoolmarmish way. The Spaniards look at each other for support. 

"No," says one of them, in his singsongy Spanish way. "Eees cold." They look like they might have been a team at school, as well.

Fat lady huffs audibly. She reaches to open it again. She gets halfway and the other Spaniard reaches over and shuts it, fast. WHUMP. He can move faster than her. They are enjoying the game now. They can sense they have the support of the Rasta as well. 

"ER ...EXCUSE me", she says, stressing the Errr. "I would LIKE it open!"

"Weeell too bad," sings the Spaniard, we would LIKE it closed!" 

The Rasta chimes in. "Yeah, it's freezin' back 'ere, man."

One more time, the last time, the fat lady pulls the window open. A gust of wind blows into the old lady's face. The window is slammed shut by the hand of the young Spaniard, this time with no hesitation whatsoever. He looks ready to stand up and face her down.

"You're VERY rude," says the ruddy lady.

"There are three of us back here who would like the weeendow closed. ONE, TOOO, THRRREE," says the first Spaniard, counting his allies with his finger extended and finally pointing to his chest. Have some reespect for us."

The fat lady has given up. It's her stop anyway. She gathers herself and her things up and bustles past her neighbour to get off the bus, breathing heavily. The Spaniards look triumphant.

Their victory smiles are broken by a sudden outburst from the old lady. She tuts as she moves one seat away from the crowd. "This country's seen better days," she says. "Bloody got to get home." She stands, falteringly, to get off at the next stop, before repeating herself. 

I look over to the lady sitting opposite me, on the other side of the back of the bus. She's stifling a giggle behind her copy of the Evening Standard.

"Is it a full moon?" I ask her.

"Must be," comes her incredulous reply.

Then comes the familiar announcement, in that strange faceless woman's voice, which is so incongruous in Brixton. 

"This bus terminates here. Please remember to take all your belongs with you. This bus terminates here. All change please."

We all decamp to the very cold bus stop to await the next one.