Tuesday, 30 September 2008

a brief fiction

A 25 pulls off from outside the James’ Centre too late for a boy in a flattering sporty black jacket. The type that takes its inspiration from Japanese motorcycles without the merciless insulation, wholly unsuited to the exertions of the cheek by jowl bus commuter. Thinking quickly he breaks into a sprint, down the hill and the entrance to the Caledonian Thistle Hotel car park, he has to beat the bus over 100 yards, down to the stop outside John Lewis. Get there he’s thinking, go on, just get there. He’s too keen, hasn’t noticed the electronic sign telling him there’s only 2 minutes to the next 25. Picking up speed, funneled down the banked speedway under the pedestrian overpass, he relaxes seeing the bus lurch to a stop halfway along the stretch to let in a Transit. Upstairs, onboard, a slow moving suit with a trench & briefcase is sent stumbling up the aisle, his specs fly off and clatter around the bar on the front window that he also grasps to break his fall. The glasses hang there for a second before he settles himself. Back to the boy, he’s slowing, blinking, strides easing down to arrive just as the blonde girl at the stop steps on. Made it. A joyful moment. All’s right with the world. Off the bus clanks again, into the oppositetheOmni maelstrom, two rows of cars vying for two rows on the far side with another two rows entering from the left. A theatre of false politeness and naked ambition. The bus slows, on the street, a pair sozzled drinkers embrace another. Their faces a mask of drink and grime, one’s rolling a cigarette, the other swigs from a litre of strong cider, the white type. All three seem upset but it’s not clear whether this is for a specific reason or just the general miasmic despair that’s shrouded the city today with the rain battering down and no-one able to get anywhere. All three have slight cuts on their noses, caused by something striking it very hard (L-R, a bottle? a forehead? a pavement?).

On down into the valley of nightmares, the two lane mini-roundabout with an inverse camber and three queues marshalled by temporary traffic lights. Wait. Lurch. Wait. Go! The suspension attacks the camber with gusto, the top deck treated to the now familiar lurch to the right that accompanies any northward transit of this new and already infamous boundary before passing buses edging the single lane of oncoming traffic into the 25’s path on Elm Row. A barely perceptible moan wafts through the top deck as from here you can see forever, down the endless tail-lit serpent, flanked by bandit screens and bollards. Leith Walk. The sensible disembark at the corner of Brunswick Road deciding just to walk it. They’ll be wet but won’t have to breathe the simmering, impatient resentment fogging the windows of the bus.

Passing the Krakow CafĂ© and the blonde meticulously painting the incongruous medieval cladding to the wee shopfront, a tiny glimmer of artistry, beauty peeking up and out from the upheaval and chaos all around. Down, down, down the walk the traffic inches. The stop by the KFC just at the entrance to the counterflow, a train of 4 buses all buffalo out into the single lane of exasperated private cars, two make it through. A man gesticulates to get on the stop, the bus driver is ignoring him, his impassive 1000 yard stare silently screaming “I’m away fae the kerb and sitting in traffic pal, cannae let you oan”. Things are getting heated, the man is shouting, angry, there’s a screaming baby, the bottom deck is packed with folk breathing on each other, trying to keep calm. They’re stuck here now, can’t get off, stuck waiting for this light. Light changes and along it goes. Towards the Foot the road narrows, two bare lines of traffic sandwiched between two cages of bandit screens. Nothings' moving the other side, a workie with his high-vis jacket isn’t directing traffic. There’s folk leaving their cars in the oncoming traffic and running into the lane to see what’s going on. There’s quite a bit of exasperated gesticulation. Some guy nearly gets sideswiped by a little digger coming the wrong way up the road. He refuses to move, some of the workies get a bit shirty. The 25 still inching through the tight lane, then stranded as a purple Astra moves out of the oncoming lane and directly into its path trying to get past. The 25 moves forward, the driver not taking this provocation lying down. Out the window, in the corridor along the pavement a beautiful woman wearing a cap is walking up the road with her husband. A passer by grabs her hat, she turns around and runs him down, snatching the cap from his hand. She’s roaring “give us that back you, fuck sake”, her man turns around bewildered and starts walking back. Here’s one of the other guys pals now, roaring “Dinnae touch ma fuckin’ pal or ahl fucking kill ye” at her man. The guy is shitting it, not knowing what to do, way out of his depth. Before he knows it the Head the Ball is on him, the guy doesn’t say anything just tries to get clear, he gets a few boots on his way. Then his missus gets in the way and the Head the Ball pushes her. Her man goes “fuckin’ steady man”, not seeing the bottle in this Rocket’s hand. Smack. Blood everywhere. The 25 hasn’t moved in a while now, the polis on their way. The top deck riveted. The sign beside the road says “Taking you to work in 2011”; in the meantime, you’re going nowhere.

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