Column April 21, 2010: Too close for chorizo

TUMBLING headlong, as I am, towards the age of 40, I should perhaps be less excited than I am by sitting at the front of the top deck on a bus.

But the fact is, when I climb the stairs and discover the front seats are unoccupied, I feel like the winner of the bus lottery, king of the number 78, Bus Aldrin.

So I was delighted to find myself at the front of the top deck, the public transport equivalent of the corner office. Not only could I see where I was, I could also see where I was going. And how rarely in life can one say that?

I spread out and I put my bag on the seat next to me. Best of all, I had room to stretch out my legs in front of me. At five feet eleven and a half – and you can imagine how galling that lack of half an inch was when I stopped growing. I have the Devon Loch of pituitary glands – I spend most of my time on buses with my knees either side of my ears. It was, in short, ace.

Regular readers of this column, and indeed, students of Sod’s Law, will know that such happiness could only be fleeting. As surely as Knight follows Day on the bill of a Gladys Knight show with Darren Day as support, 12 stones of annoyance planted itself next to me.

I don’t really like it when people sit next to me on the bus. I was scarred by an unfortunate incident involving a sneezing passenger with a weak pelvic floor. Even if that nice Karen Gillan off of Doctor Who had sat next to me, I’d have been a bit browned off.

But it wasn’t that nice Karen Gillan. It was a stubbly, stubby, swarthy gentleman who started off by reading a text on my phone, which was on my lap.

I tried to angle my body in such a way that it would render my new acquaintance incapable of reading my phone’s screen. But I could not, firstly because my bag, which had been dislodged from its comfy seat, was now stuck between my two feet.

And secondly, more importantly, it was because Mr Swarthy had decided to adopt a Continental approach to personal space. He had attached himself to my side, his left arm against my right, his left foot against my right, and, yes, his left thigh against my right. If he had leant into my face and sung a Spanish song about love, loss and chorizo I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

I am unused to such intimacy on a bus journey. If I have to sit next to somebody, I play a version of the game where one drags a loop around a twisty wire without touching it. I contort my body so as not to touch the other passengers. And I think they appreciate my pains.

I looked around to find another seat. But there were no empty seats. And in any case, I was stuck, trapped by the bag between my feet, the wall of the bus and the barnacle which was now attached to me, a 12-stone barnacle called Miguel. If I had tried to stand up I would have ended up in his lap, which would have been pretty much exactly the opposite of the message I was trying to give.

No matter, I consoled myself. The bus would soon empty and he would move to a different seat. I felt the cool glass of the window against my cheek and relaxed. Then the person behind me got off the bus. My new friend didn’t move. All right, I thought. He probably didn’t notice.

Then another person got off, and another, and another. I realised that we were now the only people on the top deck of the bus, apart from a young woman near the back. And the Barnacle was still clamped to me. I started to come round to the idea of a life with Miguel constantly by my side. 

The bus reached the end of the route. And he still didn’t stand up. I took action. I grasped my bag and rudely barged past him. I looked back as I reached the stairs and saw Miguel slowly realise the bus was going no further. I wasn’t paying attention as I watched him stand. I put my hand on the yellow rail. Right on top of the hand of the young woman.

Her eyes flashed daggers at me as she pulled her hand away.

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