- Vol. 07
- Chapter 04
“Used to subscribe meself,” the little man shared conspiratorially, as I half-heartedly turned a page of the writer’s magazine.
“Mmm?” I replied. It was ill-considered for a closed response.
He adjusted a store’s plastic bag and judiciously leaned into an acute bend in the road without grasping for support. His feet seemed nailed to the floor of the bus, low centre of gravity giving him the stability of a seasoned sailor, sea-legs matching the ocean’s fits of pique.
“Got fed up; a man needs acknowledgement. Wasn’t payin' me money for others' satisfaction.”
I raised a wary eyebrow. He was staring straight at me.
“Yeah, I ventured,” despite myself, “we do crave validation.”
I rolled my eyes back to the magazine and bad-temperedly flicked past the next three pages to the next would-be Booker winner.
He allowed another two standing passengers to take empty seats to remain standing next to me. Two concerns hit me hard and fast: was he coming on to me, or were his legs prosthetic? My peripheral vision detected a certain amount of fidgeting. Oh God, let him have prosthetics; I willed and was immediately ashamed.
“Not that you lot are the worry these days,” he blurted.
I spotted several passengers attempting to withdraw their heads into their chest cavities.
“Especially not to me,” he added.
Others developed an unusual interest in the grotty big houses whisking by their windows.
“No, but mustn’t complain … not allowed. Just noticed the accent.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I offered.
“But I do, I do,” the little man bounced back, sounding not at all like Abba. “Some of these editors get stuck in a mind-set, short-listing the same style of writing again and again, guaranteeing prizes to one of their favourites again and again.” I ignored the tautology. “Then they say it’s because they’re better.”
He broke off his passionate diatribe to allow a few disembarking passengers to pass, ignoring the emptied pews. I seized the opportunity for a quick glance downwards, a visual sortie which debunked the theory of prosthetics.
“Better my pimply wrinkled ...” He seemed to notice the children for the first time, and doffed an unsavoury bobble-hat to the ladies present, “.... hide,” he finished anticlimactically.
“I meant about the slight to the Irish,” I elucidated, eager to drag him off his hobby-horse, however vertically challenged they both might be.
I sped read the last two stories as he mulled this over. We reached his stop without further debate. As he made to get off, he lurched close.
“You know, this bit of yakking did me good. Thanks. I better hurry home. I’ve a bit of life-writing to destroy,” he guffawed fragrantly, highly amused at some secret pun. I nodded, smiling through a held breath.
As the bus pulled away from the bridge, I watched the little man shuffle across the street to catch a 43 going back to where we’d boarded.
The rainstorm had provided a huge puddle there.