Dis joker’s vexing me. It's pissing down outside and he’s hitting every fuckin' red light. Not today, blood, not-to-fuckin'-day, I'm right on the edge. I got a mission to accomplish and I don't wanna long it out. All dat matters is reaching the station and making the call, but my man's being a dickhead. South London bus drivers generally are. Control freaks. Standard. And dis fucka really wants to play the big man today, pulling all the usual shit, like not opening doors in gridlock and stopping way past where he's supposed to. Just now he left a geezer standing in the rain like a chump. After the guy chased him down my man just slammed the doors in his face and drove off. I know if it was me I'd be screwing.
I check my watch: it's just gone eight-thirty. I feel my rucksack digging into my shoulders so I take it off and rest it at my feet before the driver has a chance to let a load of people on at the next stop. It's the usual morning crowd, long-faced commuters looking like they need putting out of their misery squeezed in with posses of school kids dat are far too animated for their own good, pushing the decibel count through the roof. No one says a word. They're either too scared or too jaded so they just sit there pretending they ain't bothered, or they study their phones or papers until they get off.
A tinny bass line leaks from a pair of headphones playing a song I recognise. The smell of nicotine and sweat hangs in the air. Studying the youts bantering back and forth over by the stairs, I start to wonder where all the time went. I'd like to t’ink dat at some point I was happy like them. I tune into their conversations, vexed by the banality of the chat 'bout schoolyard beef, texting and who's seeing who? Some of these girls are far too ripe for their age and I know for sure dat it won't be long before they're pushing prams and wondering where the hell their innocence went. And my mind turns to my dad as the bus groans, hitting yet another set of red lights.
"Ah, for fuck's sake!"
"Driver, can you let us off, please?"
He just acts like he can't hear. People start to tut and shake their heads.
Thoughts of my old man set my blood to boiling as I stand on the lower deck crammed with all these nobodies. It must've really messed him up, seeing my pregnant mother in her school uniform. Did he walk out over her refusal to abort me? She's never said. She did the best she could, but the odds were well and truly stacked against her. I know I made shit worse. She didn't deserve how I treated her, but I was angry. I'm still angry. I know it ain't fair, but I can't deal with it. Now she wants me to live up to some imaginary standard he couldn’t. She's never stopped stressing me 'bout the company I keep. Does she want me to go back to running with a gang? Ain't gonna happen. I got my focus. I know she wouldn't approve, but I'm a grown man now and it's my life to do with as I please. Anyway, what she t'inks ain't important no more. I need my life to matter. To count for something.
I snap out of it and look back through the rear window. Common sense has broken out on the bus behind and their driver's let his passengers off. I'm not the only one who notices.
"C'mon, nuh man, driver, open de blasted doors, cha!"
Nothing. The next stop by the church is about a hundred yards away, but my man's determined to keep up dis charade. Normally I'd be cussin', but today everyt'ing's different. The muscles of my neck cramp up. I suddenly realise my foot is tapping like it's got a mind of its own and can feel the sweat on my brow. My chest's so tight. I take deep breaths, but it don't help much. I need dis to be over with.
Just then, there's a rap on the front doors. People look to see who it is. It's the same geezer the driver blanked a couple of stops back. He must've been on the bus behind and now he's gesturing to be let on. But my man just turns his head away and stares out of his window like there's something more important happening. The guy bangs his fist on the glass. A few people jump. Driver don't care. For him, the guy don't even exist. Muffled swearing filters through the glass, but the traffic ahead clears and the bus accelerates away again. Through the rear window, I watch the furious guy break into sprint, but the driver doesn't stop at the church and he's forgotten about the people who wanna get off.
"What the hell?"
Instead, he catches the next set of red lights at the roundabout. I'm sure these are the only ones he really wanted to avoid, but the traffic in front has held him up. People are still complaining about the stop before. They don't notice the madman legging it past on the other side of the road. He ain't gonna risk the same shit happening at the next stop so he heads for the one right outside the station where he knows most of the bus is gonna empty. If this had been yesterday, I'd want him to make it, but it ain't and sometimes you should leave well alone. A baby gazes up into my face from its buggy, gurgling. I check out the parents who are giving each other little pecks on the lips and I see an image of the future as I wanted it to be with Monica. I really thought it was what she wanted too, but I was kidding myself. I did eveyt'ing she asked, even dropped all my breddren but she left me anyway, just like my old man. Whatever. After today, it ain't gonna matter no more.
I blink and wipe away the sweat stinging my eyes as the bus lurches into the straight heading down towards the stop opposite the station. Up ahead, there's a whole heap of people standing in the rain and right there among them is dat same guy. He's hopping up and down, like he can't wait for those doors to open. My heart is really beating hard now. The driver pulls sheepishly into the kerb and jerks to a stop. This is it. This is my big moment, but I'm distracted by what's happening in front of me. Or maybe I'm just stalling. After a few tense seconds, the central doors fling back. People begin filing off past me, but I still don't move. I should be reaching for my phone, but I don't.
The driver now has no choice. Eventually, the front doors fly back and people rush on board, jostling for the seats. I hear a voice in my head, screaming at me:
Make the call! Make the call!
But I'm too busy studying the geezer who's finally on board and has his face pressed up against the protective perspex, millimeters between himself and the bus driver.
"You didn't think I'd make it, did you, eh?" he yells. "Can you see me now, you cunt!"
"You're holding de people up," says the driver. "Move on or get off de damn bus."
"Make me get off, I dare ya, I fucking dare ya! Come on, big man, let's 'ave it now!"
I hear the central doors close behind me. The driver knows he's lost the battle and just wants to get moving, but dis geezer's properly going into one as people nudge past him, scanning their cards on the reader and it's not long before the bus is full again.
Make the call! Do it now!
Amid the muted chatter, the baby starts to cry. I take a look around and drink in this pathetic scene, grateful that I'm leaving behind this miserable life of mine. And then I lock eyes with a stranger who I never saw get on. And in that moment EVERYTHING changes.
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar!
I hear it again and again in my head, the words dat were supposed be my last. But I'm rooted to the spot, trapped in these eyes, the kindest eyes I've ever seen. I'm struggling to describe their colour to myself. All I can come up with is love . . . they're the colour of pure, unadulterated LOVE. He smiles at me, the warmest most loving smile I've ever received and I feel a tingling sensation, like pins and needles, all over my body, as if I'm being rejuvenated, purified.
Suddenly, my phone goes off and I instinctively brace. The people closest to me flinch. I feel the vibrating in my jacket pocket and sigh with relief. Had it been the one in my rucksack I wouldn't've heard a thing and dis bus would've be a twisted wreck in seconds. And in the aftermath, when all the smoke and metal and burning flesh was cleared away, mine would be the name on everyone's lips, my face the one on every TV screen and on every front page, remembered for all time. Immortal. But now everyt'ing's changed . . . now that I've seen Him. None of dis matters no more. I can't make the call. Not now. Some day me and my old man will surely meet in the clouds. But not like this. NEVER like this!
I feel a jolt and notice that we're moving again. I look about me, but the stranger with the love in his eyes is nowhere to be seen and my phone is still ringing. I reach inside my jacket and pull it out.
"Hi it's me, Monica. Is this a good time? I'm really sorry . . . it's just that my mind's been telling me to call you. Is everything okay?"
My eyes fill with tears and I smile. "Yeah, it's fine . . . everything's fine now."
Saul Delino is the author of 'Trespassers' (buy your copy here)
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