A mid afternoon journey home. There were a few people scattered towards the front of the top deck, and I decided to sit near the back. It was a foolhardy decision but I was feeling confident, and there was still crisp copy of Metro news on a bench second from the back. I took it up and replaced it with myself, scanning the front cover as I settled. Next stop. A middle aged man was walking down the aisle, eyes fixed on the back row. He had a slightly chubby and scrunched up face, as if someone had reached in like a puppeteer and pulled the bridge of his nose half an inch into his head, drawing the cheek bones and eye sockets with it.
He sat down directly behind me. I knew what was coming. My previous excuses
would be no good here. Fate.
A rustle of belongings, and I thought that if I caught him before he lit up I’d stand a better chance. But I couldn’t just accuse him; I needed to be coughing on the smoke to get the sympathy vote. I hesitated and the smoke wafted past. I half turned, and then back, no, yes, no, I would do it.
“Do you mind not smoking, mate?” A quick sideways glance at the no smoking signs.
As I opened my mouth he seemed to know what was coming, and his face dropped into an expression of self pity and sorrow. It was the look a beggar gives to the policeman who tries to move him on, or the drunk gives to the bar tender who refuses to serve him any more.
‘But it’s all I’ve got!’ the look said.
‘But I’ve gotta start ‘nuther shift!’ the man said.
And perhaps it was all he had. I had become the policeman, too concerned with rules and regulations and my own comfort to care about the plight of poor stranger trying to keep his head above the water. He got the sympathy vote, I lost it.
I looked at him again, ‘Well…I…’
So I stood up and mover down to the front of the bus. He muttered a few inaudible insults as I left. He had the back row on the bus, and his cigarette, and perhaps not much else, and who was I to take those from him?