“Weee, I can ride with no hands!”, a mother gleefully announces to her four year old son, pointing to a slender, elderly man cycling below from their lofty vantage on a double-decker bus. The man, scintillating from left to right with his hands behind his head revels in his skills by revealing a single crinkle tooth from a downward smile; an expression belying those enjoyments by the elderly of the simple activities. The child laughs.
“I can ride with no teeth!” he exclaims, turning back to his mother for approval. She nods, and turns her nose from side to side, as if to excuse herself from snorting. But of course, with childish acceptance, the child loses interest quickly in the activities of the old man, and smudges a pink hand across the condensation-webbed windows for a different peep-hole view; neither does this hole of activities interest him. What it does serve is an entrance through which a tight stream of winter light can fall, illuminating and scattering off of the the puffs of multi-coloured clouds emanating from the back of the seat the child kicks— a decade’s worth of jumper wool, coat fir and shirt threads.
Lowering my head, I squint through the palm-sized looking-glass from two-rows back to see a large run-down house, ironically marketed as ‘Elton Mansions’; across this, in bright menacing red spray paint reads the interestingly punctuated graffito: “WHERE THERE ARE MIRACLES; THERE LYES YOU.” I cough as a dry cloud reaches the back of my throat. The mother turns around to apologise by not really apologising: I too of course was once a child.
I thumb the bell as I’ve reached my stop. It’s sometimes difficult to see one’s destination from a bus in winter: the vapour-laced breath of winter-bodies obscures the clarity that windows bring; the clearness which allows one to see out further than oneself, and the kind which reflects back, forcing some degree of introspection. Such is the beneficence of a collective entity, and such is the value that darkness can import. But relief can at least be found in the seasonal dynamic of this phenomenon: like waves of public perception, the seasons do, and will, change.
Stepping out amongst the seasonal chatter and mulled spices, I walk down a bustling road, careful to side-step entwined people exchanging seasonal tendresses: nuzzling scarf covered necks, sharing hot cider from plastic cups. My own contribution to the atmosphere, a series of frosty breaths, reminded me of the dust clouds from the bus—a feeble, transient addition to anything.
By this time, apart from the idle observations I had been making, I’d quite forgotten the reason for coming outside. Walking past the butchers and bakery (the candle-stick-makery must have gone of out business) I found myself overhearing a commotion at the local fishmonger, so I go in.
“What is it with Muslins, coming from a country they hate to this country, and tryin’ to change this cuntry into one they hate too!”
The fishmonger was trying to force disengagement with this customer’s conversation by avoiding eye contact, a tactic which might work in the case of dialogue, but this was unsuccessful; this was a monologue. For myself, I was trying not to laugh, grateful of the fact that I’d avoided walking past the fabric-factory; I’d never be able to look at those muslins in quite the same way. “You can just immagin’ walking down the road, and one of those terroists disguised as a refugee just comes along, and with a flick of a knife—” he makes a gesture of pulling his thumb and index finger across his neck. Again, I wonder how one would disguise themselves as a refugee: would it be obvious? Would they have their possessions tied in a polka-dot cloth on the end of a stick?
“All Muslems are terrorists—” the customer starts again, pronouncing the offending word a different way each time, but not before I decide to cut him off. “Excuse me, do you have any red herring?” I turn to the fishmonger, who releases a wry smile. “No, sorry, we’re running out of red herring, I’ve had to start rationing it to two per customer.” The other customer, rubicund with incredulity, cocks a curious eye “Red herring? I’ve never had that before, is it rare?”
“Yes,” the fishmonger respond, it is these days, but since you’re a loyal customer, you can have as many as you like.”
I leave without purchasing anything, and the fishmonger winks at me, perhaps just narrowly avoiding an imperceptible sigh.