On the seat in front of me there were two people. One was a big, broad-shouldered black guy with an anorak, a glittering earring and a bobble hat, and next to him sat a shifty looking boy of about 12. When I first sat down I thought they might be father and son, but on closer inspection it wasn’t the case. They looked very different, and they spoke almost like strangers.
The bloke chatted easily in a deep voice, while the kid had a strong street accent and spoke haltingly, taking a long time to string his sentences together. I couldn’t tell whether it was because he just wasn’t articulate or if he thought about everything very carefully before he opened his mouth.
‘What I don’t understand, right,’ said the kid, ‘Is why people get the bus just for one or two stops, when you could just walk it in five minutes. I see it loads, and I think they should just walk it.’
‘Maybe they just got bad legs.’
‘Not all of them got bad legs. Some of them don’t and they could still walk.’
‘Yeah, but maybe they just don’t want to. I do it sometimes. I see a bus there and I think it’s only a couple of stops but I might as well because it’s there.’
‘We sometimes get the bus for just a couple of stops. Where we live in Finsbury Park we’re at the top of a hill, right, and Kyra, the little one – you remember? – she gets tired and so sometimes with my mum we take the bus. Like when we’ve got the shopping sometimes.’ He trailed off into silence.
They were obviously on the bus together, but they didn’t know each other very well. I guess the man was some kind of community worker. They seemed to get on well anyway.
‘Do you know what building this is?’ Asked the guy.
‘Yeah, jail. Men’s jail. Women’s is up the road.’
‘I used to live round here.’
‘Yeah? I didn’t know that.’
‘Yeah, my mum’s real nan lives here.’
‘How long ago?’
‘Long time.’ He drew the word ‘long’ right out to emphasize it. I wondered how long was long for a twelve year old. A few weeks? A few years? I reckon as you get older the reason time seems to go faster is because a year, or a week, or a day or whatever, is a smaller percentage of your life. When you’re four, a year seems forever, but it’s because it’s a quarter of your life. Get beyond a certain age and people start to lose track.
‘My nan still lives here. She’s still not dead. My cousin lives here too.’
‘Yeah? How long since you last saw him?’
‘Long time.’ He did the same thing with the word ‘long’.
‘Just been busy. Every day now I’m just busy all the time.’ Sitting listening guiltily from the seat behind I wondered what he could possibly be so busy with.
‘It’s two buses from Finsbury Park. He lives there, in those flats.’
‘The red brick ones?’
‘No… yeah… those ones…’ He suddenly launched into a stream of semi-comprehensible stuff about scarves, who were apparently good, and avtars, who were ‘bad people’. The only Avtars I know of are the Leeds student rental moguls, and I presume he wasn’t referring to them.
The big guy laughed out loud.
‘Gangs! You know this is the first time you’ve mentioned gangs since I met you this morning. I thought we were going to have to talk about gangs all day, but it’s been much more interesting.’
‘Have you got a dog?’ Asked the kid.
‘Ah, so now you change the subject?’
‘Yeah.’ And the kid laughed too. ‘So have you?’
‘You’ve asked me that before.’
‘I know. It’s the easiest question. You’ve got a Labrador. It’s… chocolate brown.’
‘I want a Labrador. A black Labrador. I’m going to get one.’
‘Do you know where we are now?’ Asked the man.
‘This is King’s Cross.’
‘I’ve been to King’s Cross.’
‘How long ago?’
‘Long time.’ He did that thing with ‘long’ again. It seemed unbelievable that someone living in Finsbury Park wouldn’t pass through King’s Cross at least every week, but there you go. He was a busy fellow, after all.
‘It’s changed a lot recently. Lots more buildings and a new station. Lots of new shops’
‘Would you like to own your own shop?’ The boy asked the man.
‘I used to own my own shop. I had a record shop once.’
‘I want to be a vet.’ He declared, out of the blue.
‘Have you just decided that? When did you decide that?’
‘Well, I like animals. And I hate to see it when they get hurt. When they’re hurt I don’t like it. If I was a vet, then I’d be able to help them.’
‘You’re right. You would.’
We turned down past the Thameslink, and I got off the bus. As it pulled away I could see the two figures, one tall and rounded, the other small and tufty, silhouetted at the front of the top deck.