COLUMN: May 23, 2013

EVERY bus I can get to work arrived at the stop at once. And if I were not currently lame, like an old man in a film, I might have been in a position to take advantage of this bus tsunami.

However, all I could do was watch the phenomenon from a distance, helpless, yet in awe.

I limped to the the empty bus stop and waited. This is the lot in life of one with plantar fasciitis, the slight foot injury that sounds like a flesh-eating bug. It is a condition which is worsened by standing in one place for a while, but which also makes one stand in one place for a while by making one late for the bus.

My bus arrived and I boarded it. As it was a later bus, it was almost full, with only one seat available – the sideways-facing individual seat behind the driver. This seat is usually occupied by little old ladies, surprisingly, perhaps, given that it is quite high. One of public transport’s many little jokes.

As there were no little old ladies about, I sat down in it and opened up a book. The seat was not terribly comfortable. The height of it made sitting in it a similar experience to that of being perched on a bar stool. I spent most of the journey feeling like a member of Westlife about to stand up for the key change.

I was as comfortable as I could be under the circumstances when the bus stopped, and a woman boarded carrying a baby. The baby was in one of those front-facing slings, staring out at the world as if she were carrying her mother in a backpack.

I carried my own children in such a harness, which afforded a certain fatherly closeness until the day when a lengthening baby, an infant’s involuntary kicking movement, and my groin collided. I couldn’t enjoy it after that. It was like playing a game of high stakes Buckaroo.

One thing I do remember about carrying children in that way is that it is not easy on the back muscles, and after a while one needs to have a sit down. I am not saying it is because of this I know what it is like to be pregnant, but that is only because I do not wish to be lynched by all women.

I wear a supportive insole, but to all intents and purposes I appear as a normal, relatively fit person. There was no way I could get away with just sitting there while Pocahontas had her child dangling in front of her.

So I gave the woman the look, the one which says, “Would you like my seat?” I have just done the look in front of a mirror so I might describe it to you, and I am afraid it looks a little like a surprised Frankie Howerd watching a dog run past his feet.

This probably explains why the woman declined my offer, though at the time I assumed it was because she was worried she would find it difficult to stand again. I always did.

The woman stood opposite me, and her baby looked around the bus. Then she found me. She stared at me. I smiled at her. No response. I smiled harder. No response. I did the biggest smile anybody has ever done without the aid of medication. Still no response. So I stared back until the mother noticed.

By this time the bus had filled up with standing passengers. And each of them did the same thing. They looked at me in the little old lady seat. They looked at the woman, struggling with her staring contest winning baby. And then they looked back at me, their faces blackening.

“Look!” I wanted to say. “I have a foot thing that sounds like a flesh-eating bug. It bloody hurts! Besides, I gave her ‘the look.’ She didn’t want to know!”

It was no use. I was boiling with rage and embarrassment, my constant companions. I slammed my book shut and shoved it into my bag, and, as the bus stopped, I stood up in the most forceful way possible, as if I were the member of Westlife who was fed up with singing granny pop and who wanted to do drugs with Axl Rose.

And as I jostled my way down the schoolchild-filled aisle, I saw, through the window, the woman walking along the road, her baby bouncing in front of her. She had alighted, as she was only going three stops.

I swear the baby looked at me and smiled.

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