Reading on the bus So why don' t I cycle? I live half way up a hill and have never felt up to that, or the traffic.
I get on near the beginning of the bus route, so I often get a seat. Then the bus fills up, and up, and… well, how full-to-bursting it gets before it leaves my suburb and starts its long juddering trek of an hour or so into central London depends on how willing the driver is to flout the rules – most of them do.
So I’m sitting reading, and the aisle’s getting more and more full of poor souls sweating and swaying and sometimes falling over all the way to work. (In case you’ re wondering, yes I do get up and give my seat to anybody old or frail or carrying a baby. There aren’t a lot of those in rush hour, though. This is not an environment they can cope with – you often emerge bruised and battered.)
I’m reading this account of an exile’s return after 30 years to his village in Palestine. His feelings of loving recognition, familiar frustration, at a place that hasn’t changed, except to quietly decay, like its inhabitants, now mostly old women. Fishing out from deep inside himself the long-lost sense of home and all its contradictions.
The roundabout, the bridge, almost there. Looking up for the first time in a while to see between me and the door at least 15 people, squashed and unsteady and tired before their day begins, faces defeated or defiant. I need to get up now, smile, make eye contact, murmur apologies and edge firmly towards the door. If they don’t shift – which they mostly won’t, they’re in a bitter trance – keep pushing, keep murmuring sorry and excuse me, but be very firm or I won’t make it in time.
The emotion lingering from my book is quite appropriate: belonging, compassion, interwoven with a quiet scream of alienation.
¶ 5:21 pm
What a wonderful post. Magnificent last line. Curious, how often both those thing arise at the same time. Seems like they ought to be mutually exclusive, but really they're just front and back of the same thing, I guess.
I'm not often on buses, but we used them a couple of times in Vancouver. To an outsider, the experience was all the more otherworldly, especially the bus zombification people entered upon taking their seat, or even while standing, clutching reflexively to the greasy handrails. Some, with the longest rides ahead of them, induced an instant auto-trance, head down, bobbing like a wobblehead doll. What's one to do in the bench seats especially--staring eye to eye with the corresponding soul opposite you for blocks and miles. I felt quite the detached anthropologist on our bus rides as this experience was a cultural light year from the way we live.