The Following is an account of what happened to me on the 5th of March 06.----------------------------------
Soo... I am chilling at the bus stop in my mock b-boy stance right? Watching the traffic crawl by. Peckham high street – midday/morning/sun – armies of secondary school students with far too much testosterone, flocks of females in short spring skirts fanning the testosterone-fuelled fire, bus rolls up. I get on, find a seat and prepare to write about all of those things… Two stops later this cloud of alcohol and stale sweat hits me. I look up and I see an unshaven, dirty face scanning the crowd of passengers. I look back down immediately. Too late. The seat directly opposite me is filled. With him. I swear to Apple Trees! I attract freaks on a bus. It’s like they get on, scan the crowd, spot me in that –ahh! On of us! – kind of way and magnet their way towards me. Anyways, I am sitting down trying to write and not breath at the same time, the can of beer in the drunk’s pocket catches the bright light in the sunny spring day and glints as if basking in it’s own presence. The two old ladies sitting behind us grunt their disapproval. The drunk clears his throat looking directly at me:
- Who owns the bus? I dunno? Er.. Ken Livingstone - Does Jesus own the bus? I dunno… what? - Does Mohammed own the bus?
Then it dawns on me…I think “Dude, Do not get me started on theology, it is far too early in the day and I don’t have enough apple juice in my blood stream.” Instead I reply:
Your answer is as good as mine. I can’t prove or disprove any of those. Are you a Muslim? He asks. I have a faith, and it’ll end there. - I reply, really not wanting to discuss this at that moment, especially with a drunk stranger on a bus and the beginnings of a poem running through my head. Good- he says dribbling slightly - you have made a point that is better than nothing.
I peer at him through the fog of dried sweat and alcohol. He is wearing a navy blue baseball hat with white markings and text printed on the brim, a dirty cream jumper, an evil smelling brown leather jacket, and black thick rimmed sunglasses. He asks about my background,
I am Nigerian. - How long have you stayed here? Too long
He laughs at my short answer, revealing two perfect rows of burnt brown teeth, disappearing into a strange, almost knowing smile.
-I am Abdul Havis, I was born in Algeria, moved to France, lived there until I was 21, then came here. Okay. -But I don’t like it here, too much trouble, chaos, I want to move somewhere more peaceful, where the weather is better, you tell me, what is good about London? about today?
I look into the flashing streets, past the fire station and burnt buildings on Camberwell road, past the brown walls and faded posters, oil spills..
The sun is shining.
The strange smile dances across his face again…
-Yes you are right - He says disappearing into his beer can.
Finally! some silence. I bend over my open book and begin to jot down the idea for a poem. For about 10 seconds, there is the pretend of peace… then interruption.
-what are you studying. Nothing. - I reply quickly, loudly, exasperated -I am trying to talk to you- he says, a flash of anger staining his slurred speech I am not studying, I am a writer, writing, these are my thoughts I am putting down. -what do you write? - Short stories disguised as poem, or long poems disguised as stories, thoughts, feelings.
For a currently drunk drunk, his questions are coherent. One of the old black ladies beside me gives the mildest of sniggers, and I check myself. This is Peckham. Despite Camberwell college of art sharing the same area code, a black guy into the arts is considered a weirdo. I attempt to steer the ‘conversation’ away from me…
Where are you going. -to see my solicitor; where are you going? To the west end, I have a meeting. Why do you need a solicitor? -everyone does after a while; you need one in London. …
I am puzzled now, intrigued, still trying not to breath him in. He says the last line effortlessly, that strange smile returning to his face again. I stare at him more intently, at the almost black neckline of his jumper, dirty from a long lack of washing powder, at the huge red in-growing-hair puss-filled bumps on his neck, at the dried saliva at the corners of his mouth, thinking “eughh…” yet every part of me wanting him to explain about the solicitor. Nothing. No noise from him. Finally I think “whatever man, alcho asshole probably doesn’t know what he is saying.” I bend back to my book.
His throat clears: -My son died of cancer when he was fifteen. After that I started drinking, I know this is not an excuse, I know. But that is the way it is.
The way his words ricochet across my skull. My face crumples. The mocking look in my eyes drip past my lashes and splash across the bus floor. My stomach becomes this grand canyon of nothing. My heart goes limp, gasping at itself. I swear silently, wanting a stiff drink myself, not knowing what to say, or think, or feel… that strange smile of his beginning to make sense. We sit like this for the next five minutes, me, not daring to break silence. And his bus stop comes…
-it was been nice speaking to you- he says, stepping off the bus, into the dying day, as another book I had judged by it’s cover.