First written August 2010.
Last week I went to visit my very good friend Musical Adam, who lives the other side of the county to me. Between our houses lies a two hour-long bus journey. When I reached the bus depot I joined the back of a very long queue for the bus I needed. It arrived late, much to the chagrin of me and about fifty other people, and being a single-decker we weren’t all guaranteed a seat. At the time this was an annoyance, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see that it seems to have evolved into the dullest, most pedestrian anecdote I’ve ever regaled. If I were you I’d stop reading.
Having paid an extortionate amount to a toad-like man in a perspex box, I trudged the length of the bus, feeling the glaring eyes of the passengers. I am used to being silently judged and failing miserably – it’s all part of being British – but some people like to let you know just how far short you’ve fallen of their expectations. When I sat down next to a fashionable and attractive young lady, I could tell from her icy stare that she fell comfortably into that set.
It was a look that said ‘Christ alive! You? Sit there? Next to me? A pretty girl? You can fuck the fucking fuck off! You are clearly not nearly as fashionably hip, nor as socially adept, nor as objectively good looking as I am. Do not sit here, or people might see!’
I like to think that I – and most other people – have more to offer the world that just our looks, but in the interest of full disclosure I was not exactly looking my best. I was wearing a hoodie and ripped jeans, a casual affair for traveling in, for on the morrow Adam and I were going to Alton Towers. Nevertheless, she’d made it very clear she was disappointed that I had entered her life, but for the next hour, this was the way it was going to be. I harrumphed, inwardly, selected a riotous album and slipped into my own little world.
The bus was chocka. Half an hour later nobody had disembarked. It was about 6:30pm on a rainy day and no-one was happy. My knees were sore where they were wedged up against the seat in front and the rest of me was equally uncomfortable due to the awkward lean I had to surreptitiously perform to stop me lolloping into my resentful co-commuter every time we turned right.
Time passed, and I noticed I was being scrutinised by a fellow passenger, seated towards the front. The passenger in question looked like Brad Pitt, but if instead of a high-profile movie career, he had instead opted for a lifetime of heavy lifting and manual labour, and then one day had his hands mangled in an industrial accident and has continued the job using his face. He was staring at me as if, by existing, I had ruined his day, but when our eyes met he didn’t break the stare. This is Britain! That’s against the law!
After several furtive glances into his eyes, I realised that this apparently hostile man was not in fact looking at me, but at my immediate left, towards my unwilling companion. ‘Steady on now,’ I thought, ‘If you’re going to ogle her, at least have the decency to be discreet about it.’ Maybe I could win the friendship of my companion by simply being a gentleman and defending her honour. I carefully turned my head to see if this lecherous oaf was bothering the young lady.
She’d fallen asleep, head lolling against the window.
Good grief. Was she OK? Would she miss her stop? Had she already? Whose responsibility was her wellbeing? What if she had sleep apnea? Or swallowed part of her earring? Or just dribbled onto her leg and made it look like she’d wet herself a bit?
My inner monologue is presented here in a conversational format for your enjoyment.
‘I ought to wake her up!’
‘Why is it my responsibility!?’
‘Because she’s right there!’
‘But she already hates me!’
‘Then this is the perfect opportunity to prove her wrong!’
‘But if I wake her up, she might just hate me even more!’
‘But she could be grateful! I can be a gentleman, and save her from public disgrace!’
‘Won’t it seem obvious that I was taking too close an interest in her?’
‘But it’s the sensible thing to do. Anyone would wake up a sleeping commuter in case they miss their stop.’
‘But what if she’s missed her stop already? She might shoot the messenger.’
‘Or she might thank me.’
‘But what if she’s already missed her stop?’
‘If she has already missed her stop, then the best thing to do is to wake her as early as possible.’
‘But what if she’s deliberately gone to sleep in anticipation for the long journey? Waking her would disrupt a planned, controlled sleep.’
‘Even so, the motive is pure; I didn’t want her to be inconvenienced.’
‘But there’s no way of knowing whether this sleep is accidental, and waking someone will almost never go down well. Some people get violent when woken from deep sleep! If she was ever likely to hit me, she’d now have an excuse!’
‘As I say, my intentions are good, and if she should lash out, nobody would judge me unfavourably for trying to do the gentlemanly thing; she’d be the villain for snapping at me. If her opinion of me is already so low, an act of human kindness might at least elicit a friendly thank you, and might set the foundations for a friendship, or something more.’
‘Do I really think that will happen? That never happens, not even in fiction.’
‘Well there’s a first time for everything. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship.’
‘Beautiful relationships don’t start with one party glancing awkwardly whilst the other dribbles against a window.’
‘Actually, I’m pretty sure there’s a Matthew McConaughey film where exactly that happens.’
‘Is this level of overthinking OK?’
‘Probably not. Might get a blog out of it though.’
‘Should I put this in? It’s getting a bit self-referential and post-modern…’
‘Stop changing the subject. Wake her up. Talk to her. This is the sound of opportunity knocking.’
‘No, this is the sound of feminine snoring, the clink of earring against glass and of spit slowly dripping down a bus interior.’
‘She’s dreamy, isn’t she?’
‘No, she’s dreaming. Probably of manly men who would whisk her off her feet if she fell asleep near them. Men who would already have awoken and spoken to her.’
‘How will ever meet girls if I don’t talk to them?’
‘How will I ever meet girls if they’re asleep?’
‘Well do something quickly! People are starting to notice!’
‘Is that what I want to be? A predator preying on sleeping women?’
‘No! No-one must ever think that! Because it is not true!’
‘Better not talk to her then.’
‘Still should probably wake her up though.’
‘Well go on then!’
I nudge her with my side as we go round the corner. She snuffles a bit. It’s quite cute. Then she wakes up and yelps. She looks at me with a mixture of apprehension and shame. She puts her iPod on and gets off three stops later. Our barely-blossoming relationship is smashed into the dirt.
This genius product used to be available from the Design Museum, but they’ve stopped selling it, so no kudos for them.
The next stop is Adam’s village, and I tell him about sleepyhead. He says he knows her.
‘She’s like that with everyone.’
‘No. A bitch.’
Another lucky escape.