Once again, we have our own darling, Enyima, guest commuting from the beautiful side of East London. She’s quite gifted, I must add. I like to say she’s an important person in the financial community within The Square Mile. Enjoy her experience with Transport for London (TfL), comment, and please share.
As for this one, I can’t say I didn’t deserve it. After all, who in their right mind expects a peaceful journey home after choosing to sit at the back of the bus? The back row of seats (and the rear-facing row in front of it) belongs to the hard knocks, the tough guys, the kankpe girls, the people who spent their childhoods disrupting lessons and are hell-bent on spending their adulthoods disrupting life. But there were no other available seats on Bus 35 that balmy Thursday afternoon and I was not about to stand all the way home, or sit upstairs with the real nutcases.
So I settled into my rear-facing seat with a copy of Shortlist, a free men’s magazine I had picked up on my way to the bus stop, and started reading an article about “The 10 Most Amazing Movie Explosions of All Time” (or some other testosterone-inspired nonsense). A few moments later, an unkempt old man collapsed into the seat facing mine and in seconds was loudly snoring out the stench of beer. A fresh-faced teenage boy with neat cornrows and loud headphones slouched into the seat next to him, sniffed the air a few times and then moved further down the row in obvious disgust. Then a rotund man in a too-tight long-sleeved shirt plopped down, sighing loudly as he stretched out his legs, exposing patterned grey socks and a sliver of ashy skin above his pointy tan shoes.
I looked up from my read to raise a judgemental eyebrow at this card-carrying member of the Anti-Vaseline Movement. Why did he look familiar? He glanced over at me, did a double take, and then displayed a wide, multi-coloured grin of recognition. Then I suddenly realised who he was … Neruda! Remember Neruda? (Asomasi’s note: Click the link if you don’t remember him.) No, not the Peruvian love-poet Pablo Neruda, but Neruda of the Bus 35 love note! “Chukwuemeka” Neruda of the shamefully swift rejection by yours truly. Neruda of the wrong place, wrong time, wrong approach, wrong woman affliction!
What’s that saying again? Speak of Neruda and he will come to you?
I choked back a giggle and buried my face in my magazine, ferociously reading an illustrated four-step tutorial on “How To Skid Across a Car Bonnet Like An Action-Movie Hero” and hoping that Neruda would leave me be. A few minutes passed and nothing. I began to relax. The old man’s snoring had been drowned out by the roar of the engine beneath us as the bus pulled away from the station. Out of the corner of my eye I could see “Omarion” bopping his head with such conviction that for a moment I wasn’t sure if he was just enjoying his music or having a seizure.
Then it happened. Neruda spoke:
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
That was all it took. The laughter I had managed to stifle earlier came hurtling out of my mouth with such force that it temporarily roused Budweiser Joe from his beer-soaked slumber. I couldn’t believe it. Had Neruda just rolled out the most hackneyed conversation-starter since “Hello”? Surely he wasn’t going to follow up this Six of Spades with the “You look familiar” card… or was he?
“You are at the University, right? I think I’ve seen you around there before,” he continued.
Good grief, he was! Understandably, I guess. After all, “Hi, I’m the dude whose ego you torched three weeks ago” is not exactly a winning opening line.
Neruda: Yes, or maybe it wasn’t you. It was someone who looked like you.
Me: (I attempted to politely end the conversation by flashing a fake, awkward smile and returning to my magazine. There was, after all, an entire two-page spread of barely differentiable tweed coats costing over of £300 pounds for me to examine, admire and imagine my dream man wearing).
Neruda: Are you African?
Me: (Dang it! He was not going away!) Yes.
Neruda: Really? You don’t look African. You look like a Jamaican.
Neruda: Yes. Just the way you carry yourself. It’s like a Jamaican.
Me: I see.
Neruda: Where are you from?
Neruda: Oooh, Ghanaaa. I go to a Ghanaian church.
Me: I see.
Neruda: So how long have you been here?
Me: 4 years.
Neruda: Wow, I’ve only been here for 18 months and I get really lonely. Don’t you get lonely?
Me: No, not really.
Neruda: You don’t miss your family?
Me: No, not really.
Neruda: Well, I do. I get very lonely.
Me: I see (I could hear the violins of sympathy beginning to play sarcastically in my head. Mozart, not Beethoven).
Neruda: You are very simple, you don’t wear earrings, and the way you dress…
Me: (Uncomfortable smile…actually, make that a grimace)
Neruda: Do you not have money or something?
Me: (Grimace with widened then narrowed eyes)
Ping! As if on cue, someone pressed the Stop button and the bus swerved wildly to the left as our driver attempted to manoeuvre it into the bus stop a few yards ahead. Bags, bodies, buggies and shouts of “Bloody Hell!” went flying towards the front of the bus as its tyres screeched and burned into the road. Horns blared angrily at us from all directions. Neruda let out a yelp, both arms shooting out in an attempt to find something to hold on to, sending one of his shirt buttons flying down the centre aisle in the process. Budweiser Joe was tossed like a rag doll into the seat facing his. Omarion’s youthful reflexes were evident as he calmly and skilfully steadied himself with one of his high top Reebok-clad feet. I stifled a giggle and smiled smugly at Neruda. “I may look broke,” I mumbled to myself, “but at least my clothes don’t fall apart in public!”
As Neruda tried to regain his composure, I began to wonder what his parting line would be as I knew his stop was drawing nearer. “I want to be your friend,” maybe? No, too ’90s. “Can I have your number?” No, too outside-the-club-waiting-for-a-taxi. He cleared his throat, I braced myself.
“So how can I get to know you?”
Wooo! Smooth Operator! I whipped out the last weapon in my arsenal and brandished it like an Uzi. I had watched enough Hollywood movies to know that the guy with the Uzi always wins. I took aim and fired my first and only shot:
“I have a boyfriend.”
It worked! Neruda’s demeanour changed completely. His grin faded into a set jaw. He must have known I was lying, what with the simple, poverty-stricken and earring-less look I was rocking.”
“Oh okay. Well, have a nice day”.
And with that, he pressed the Stop button and headed towards the door as the bus slowed down, more smoothly this time. As he exited, I looked round to see if anyone had overheard our exchange. It was then that I realised that Heineken Henry Budweiser Joe was actually awake, his bloodshot eyes half open as he sent cheeky, toothless grin in my direction. “Not his lucky day, eh?” he croaked in a strong Scottish accent. Then with a chuckle, he shifted himself in his seat and fell asleep, the smile still visible on his wrinkled face. I just stared at him in a stunned silence, then made a mental note to start catching the train.