Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bus Journey

There were three things I saw that I don't think I'll ever forget. The first, seeing an old woman take off her hat, and a little live baby bird being under there, chirping, holding up its head and opening it beak wide, hoping its mother would drop worms in. There she was, just walking down the street with this little thing balanced on her head as I passed by on the bus. I turned my head to watch her, peering through the condensation until she was out of sight.

Then I turned my head back and saw the second. Her almond-shaped face, large brown curious eyes, pink glossed lips and hair cropped very short, like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. And she was looking directly at me, inches away. She must have been turning to see the bird lady too, from the seat in front, but she was still looking when I had finished, and suddenly we were there, close enough to kiss and I breathed in the mint on her breath. I smiled and she smiled back, but she didn't turn away.

“That was...” she said.
“Yeah,” I know... just... crazy” I said.
“No,” she said. “Well, yes, but also, wasn't it... Margaret Thatcher?”

I gave a little laugh, one that I hope didn't come out as malicious or belittling to her, but just from surprise. “Ha. No, no, I don't think so”
“I'm sure it was.”
“I'm pretty sure I'd have recognised her” I insisted. “Even with the bird on her head.”
“Bird?” she said.
“Yes. The little bird that was... under her... hat” I trailed off, realising she didn't know what I was talking about.
She had a... bird... on her... head?” she said.
“Are we talking about the same woman?” I asked.
“Well, I'm talking about Margaret Thatcher, who was just sitting next to you on the bus. And you're talking about a woman with a bird on her head, so... we're probably not.”
“No. No. I guess we're not”
There was a very awkward silence. She studied me quizzically for one last time before sighing and turning back to face the front. I could feel my face burn and I felt annoyed, like she judged me! I wasn't the one with the bird on my head for God's sake, and why wasn't this traffic light changing? Shouldn't the lights have changed by now?

And then I saw the lights had changed, who knows how long ago, but we still weren't moving, because there she was, the Iron Lady, holding up the traffic, as she stood in the road right in front of the bus, bending over and regurgitating worms into a baby bird's mouth which sat on the head of an old woman kneeling beside her. I'll never forget it.

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