West End Conversations

She taps me on the shoulder, seemingly after several attempts to get my attention. In my defence, I have my earphones plugged in, cranked up to the maximum as usual, and have my hands in my fully done up jacket, braced up for the nip in the air, a far cry from the fairly balmy weather we’d had for all of three days that week.

I am waiting for the Number 5 bus from Seafield Shops to Union Street, at a little before 20 minutes to 5pm, and besides the slowly lengthening line of cars on the opposite side of the road queuing up to get off Seafield on to Springfield road, there is an uncertain quietness to everything. At the time she tapped my shoulder, the only thing on my mind besides the cold was clearing my head of PRENs, Carbon equivalents, hydrogen embrittlement and all the other buzz words my ears had been filled up with at the training course I was on.

The bus can’t have left yet? She asks, when it is clear she now has my attention as I pull my earphones out of my ears.

I want to respond with a retort along the lines of I’m still here, silly, but one look at her wrinkled face peeking out from beneath the scarf she has on head and tied up beneath her chin, slight stoop and thick  blue jacket perishes the thought from my mind. My grandmother would roll in her grave if I so much as disrespected this woman I think.

It doesn’t leave till ten minutes to five, I finally respond, just before she shuffles over to the bus timetable and traces the next run with her finger. Finally convinced she lets out a whiff of pent up breath and seems to relax a little bit more.

We share a few moments of uncomfortable silence where it seems she sizes me up. I must cast a sorry picture – overgrown bushy hair, dirty brown moccasins, blue jeans and a knapsack.

You don’t live around here, no? I respond with a shaken head and explain that I am only in the vicinity thanks to a training course I am at, at the hotel across the street.

Ah, I see. You’re Nigerian though?  I nod in the affirmative. Uncomfortable silence broken we share a moan about the cold weather and how summer only lasts two days in our corner of the world. Somewhere in the midst of our idle chatter she lets on that her son worked for Shell in Port Harcourt in the mid 90s.

He’s away to Australia now though, she adds. Left in 2006, she lets out a sigh, evocative in my mind of a pining mother, much in the way mine might bemoan my seemingly lack of application in delivering a daughter in-law to her pronto.

Labour’s sold the country down the river, she adds. I maintain silence. These are dodgy waters to be treading. Presumably Labour’s selling the country down the river has something to do with their less than glorious record, the perception that is, on immigration and border controls.

We are saved by the appearance of the Bus down the road, Two stops away. Here it is she says. I nod, surreptitiously plugging in my right ear bud back in. The bus arrives, and I let her get on first inspite of her attmepts to wave me on first.

I plant my bum in a seat in front, just behind the driver. She seats in one of those reserved for the elderly and promptly whips out a Sudoku book

Twenty minutes later, we’ve snaked our way on to Union Street. I am dropping off at the last Union Street stop, just before the bus goes up Union Grove. She presses the bell and shuffles off three stops before mine.

As she gets off, she waves when she goes past me.

Stay happy son..

I have no riposte for that.

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