(I hate people who indulge in this modern trend of starting off with a ‘So…’, as if you were fully cognisant of all that they had been thinking before, or as if they had just been waiting for you to finish asking so that they could launch forth into whatever they’d already decided to say before you ever asked it.)
We (the bus) had got as far as the prison and a prisoner was waiting to get on. They get day passes because it’s an open prison and in theory they’re not murderers or anything. Mostly they look like you and I and behave in a perfectly civilised fashion, but this one did look a bit unsavoury. Unshaven. Beetling-browed. Grubby. Didn’t much like the look of him.
It was particularly important that the bus not linger longer than scheduled at the prison because I had to catch a connecting bus and the connecting bus was only two minutes behind this one!
The prisoner and the bus driver decided to have a row. The prisoner demanded to know what time the bus driver was ‘due in’. He had been standing there, waiting, for several hours, he said. His social skills were poor. There were other ways of putting it. Better still, the option of not putting it at all.
The bus was on time, or had been before the prisoner and the bus driver decided to unleash their joint supply of testosterone upon the world.
The bus driver said he could (*******) get off the bus and what way was that to talk to anybody?
The prisoner said he wasn’t going to (********) get off the bus and did the bus driver get out of bed the wrong side this morning or summink?
This went on for some time, with the language getting riper and riper. Being British we all stared out of the window pretended not to be aware of any argument at all. Including the wriggly little girl with the dummy and various other infants.
To get to visit Mum for an hour I was going to have to be on buses and trains all day. This was only my first bus. The connecting bus, scheduled for minutes behind this one, would surely be gone by now. Another half hour or forty minutes wasted at a damp and chilly bus stop.
The argument went on and on, but eventually the prisoner stumbled to the back of the bus, still swearing, and the bus driver set off. Heavy on the accelerator. Vicious on the brakes all the way to the next village. It felt like some sort of fairground ride. More than usual like some sort of fairground ride.
Everyone was unhappy.
I couldn’t quite forget about it. How had that argument even happened? And then it occurred to me that the prisoner had not read, or maybe was not able read, the timetable attached to the bus stop. He had not noticed the long gap between the workmen’s bus – somewhere around seven a.m. – and the start of regular buses – somewhere around nine a.m. So he might have been standing there for hours.
‘You’re talking b*******’ shouted the bus driver from the front of the bus.
‘No, you’re talking b*******’ shouted the prisoner from the back of the bus.
Is this perhaps how world wars start? Could Armageddon be loosed upon the world through nothing more than two grumpy men and a simple misunderstanding?
Pass me that tin hat, would you?