An Acton bus stop, Sunday, 12:30pm. The sun is shining and through my headphones I’m happily listening to the cast of Glee sing Christina Aguilera’s, “Candyman” – the post gym buzz still with me. A long, bendy 207 bus pulls up and the door opens, revealing the back of a reversing wheelchair. I wait on the pavement for the passenger to alight. Nothing happens. Oddly, the chair isn’t moving towards me, but instead jerking erratically from side to side. Alarmed, I realise the passenger’s not alighting; she’s clinging to the safety rail. Her brakes don’t work so she’s gripping the bar with all her strength to prevent the chair from skidding off the bus. She loses her grip and the chair slides rapidly to the exit. I jump up and grab the chair’s handlebars to stop her fall. Furious, she hits my hand away.
WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me!!
ME: (stunned, embarrassed and nervous.): Sorry, I was trying to help, sorry.
WOMAN: Don’t fucking touch me! Why does it always fucking do this?! Piece of shit! (She yells, swears and mumbles a lot of things that don’t make sense).
I take my hands from the handlebars, but keep my body against the chair so it won’t just skid away. If I move my weight, the chair will slide off the bus and out the open door. Without a ramp she’ll end up hurt.
ME: Do you want to get off the bus?
WOMAN: No! He should have answered his fucking phone! (She rants some more and the C word is thrown about with carefree abandon).
I just stand there. The doors of the bus have closed and we’re moving. Even though I’m supporting the chair, she’s still clinging to the bar, swearing and mumbling. The movement of the bus snaps me out of my paralysis and I look at her properly. She’s wearing a baseball cap, with greasy shoulder-length hair hanging in limp clumps from under it. Her fingernails have black dirt encrusted under them. She’s wearing a loose black t-shirt and jogging bottoms. Her arms have what I initially think are cuts on them, but then I realise they’re track marks. She smells of urine. She’s a junkie … possibly homeless.
I look around at my fellow passengers. Most of them are looking away, a few glance at me with sympathy. ALL of them know what’s happened: I’d jumped to the aid of a person in a wheelchair, but been confronted with an aggressive drug addict. I don’t know what to do. I’m still pressed against the chair with this woman sporadically yelling and mumbling. I lock eyes with a man on a seat not too far from me, some sort of message passes between us and he gets up. He presses the button for the bus to stop and, as it pulls up and the ramp comes down, he speaks to the woman – manoeuvring himself around me so he can grab the handles of the chair.
MAN (to the woman): Would you like to get off here?
WOMAN: Yes! Fucking hell! (She looks over at me) C***!
I nod thanks to him, move out of the way and he helps her off.
With the screaming woman gone, the atmosphere on the bus is awkwardly quiet. Feeling self-conscious, I get off the bus at the next stop … three stops early. My buzz is definitely gone.
London is a carnival of junkies, though I’ll not be escaping the theatrics when I return to Australia. My hometown was a hotbed of nutters; the most famous being “Ding, Ding”, an alcoholic ex-boxer who enjoyed air fighting imaginary opponents and chasing my terrified sister through the park during her lunch hour. Local “characters” are found in any environment, city or rural.
Anyway, speaking of fringe dwellers who are capable of humiliation and intimidation, I’m off to Erotica.