Reasons why I should just ignore everyone's needs
The bus is crowded. Even though I could have done with a double seat to myself (because of the bags, because of the bags ... what were you thinking I meant?), I've had to squeeze in next to a woman who's in the window seat (Window Woman, from now on). She has that mad rabbit look in her eyes that belies someone who's anxious about where to get off the bus, and that means she's got to get past me at some point, but I have no other choice.
I will now present the rest of the disastrous narrative in a series of numbered points. It helps me to distance myself from distressing material.
1. As soon as I've sat down, Window Woman makes a slight movement towards me. I think it's because she's getting off. I'm nearest the bell. Honestly, some people. Why didn't she just say when I sat down? Still, my natural philanthropy takes over, and I stretch right over to press the bell for her which entails complicated rearrangement of myriad bags and lots of rustling and clutching of handles and huffing and puffing.
2. JUST as I'm about to press the bell, Window Woman catches on. She says, 'no, no, sorry, sorry, I no want off bus yet'. This tells me three things. She's not from England. She doesn't want to get off the bus yet. I look like a plonker.
3. I rearrange all my luggage and settle back into the seat. Then Window Woman taps me on the shoulder and asks, 'You know Blacklow Road? Need Blacklow Road.'
4. I think, yay! A chance to help someone to their destination, and this time, I know where the road is!
(A word of explanation, and a break from the numbered points which you may be finding annoying. There are many people, I am sure, still wandering around England aimlessly, looking for the right turning or the pub or the garage I assured them would be there. I am to lost foreigners what a large steak with sausage and egg would be to a vegan. Many times in my life I have confidently directed people to their destinations, then had to hide behind bushes or in shops when they come back the other way, looking puzzled and stressed. I should just say, 'Sorry, I don't know' if anyone asks me for help, and protect the general public that way, but the problem is, I always think, 'No, this time, I know I'm right', and it's always just as they move off, looking grateful, that I realise that, again, I wasn't, and that they're going to finish up in the river.)
5. So, adrenaline rushing as I realise I actually do know where Blacklow Road is, I nod effusively and forgive Window Woman for twitching and making me think she needed to get off. She needs help, and I do so love HELPING. 'Sure,' I say, putting on my 'I'm England's gift to foreigners' face. 'It's just a little further on. I'll press the bell for you when it's time.' She has on her 'I'm so grateful' face. My 'I'm England's gift to foreigners' face gets even more 'England's gift' than before.
5. We pass the bus stop before the one I think she needs. I'm cool. We're approaching a massive roundabout and road junction pretty fast, but I sure there's a bus stop right opposite Blacklow Road before we get to the junction. I ring the bell. 'All you need to do,' I say to Window Woman, smiling indulgently, 'is cross straight over the road when you get off the bus. It will be directly opposite the stop. You'll see a terribly busy roundabout and junction ahead of you, but you don't need to go that far.' She is looking so adoring, I'm wondering if I'm going to get a free holiday in a cheap Eastern European country soon.
6. There's a minor struggle involving the temporary loss of a couple of bags and a few Steinbeck essays while I turn sideways to let her get past and then rearrange myself into her old seat.
7. I am now Window Woman. As I watch ex-Window Woman making her way down the bus, I feel an inner glow of satisfaction. Yes! For once, I have directed someone right!
8. As ex-WW makes her way to the front of the bus, we pass Blacklow Road. No bus stop. We hit the massive roundabout and road junction. We sail past the massive roundabout and road junction. Ex-WW has trouble holding on as we swerve round. Then the bus stops. Seems I was wrong about where the stops were. Oh, hell.
9. I realise that, having shot so far past Blacklow Road, Ex-WW may not know where she's meant to go. Panicked, I get up and rush down the aisle, knocking passengers left, right and centre with my bag collection, and I tap her on the shoulder. She turns. I make various manic gestures about her having to make it back over the roundabout and junction and she nods uncertainly. I don't think she recognises any of my gestures from her 'Speak English in a Week' textbook. She looks unhappy. I don't think I'm going to get my holiday after all.
10. Point 10 should be the end of the whole sorry tale. But I'm afraid it isn't.
11. I turn round (not easy, considering the fact that I am masquerading as a hotel porter) to find that another woman, obviously thinking that me careering down the bus in a pother meant I was getting off, was overjoyed to find a seat vacated by two people at once, and has moved from her shared seat to that one. She, too, has several bags with her. And she is now Window Woman, a usurper. I am ex-Window Woman. The woman who's just got off (and is currently battling with the morning rush-hour to make her way to Blacklow Road and thinking, 'Was England the right choice for me?') is Window Woman Twice Removed.
12. I say to Usurper Window Woman, 'I'm sorry. I wasn't getting off. I was just helping that lady.' Fifty-nine other passengers stare at me, thinking, 'Well, you may have been helping her, but we all now have bruises and have lost our places in the newspaper what with all the distraction'.
13. Usurper WW is really embarrassed, and has no option but to try and squeeze up so I can sit down again. She's not exactly slim, and I won a competition in a fancy dress party once when I went as a barrel. Our joint collection of bags is rammed up against the seats in front of us. Our thighs are enjoying close fellowship. We exchange awkward smiles. At least, I think she is smiling. That may just be how she looks when she's crammed up against the side of the bus with no room to breathe.
14. Ironically, jammed in as we are, the bus ride is a lot more comfortable now. However suddenly the driver brakes or however many bumps in the road he goes over, UWW and I are lodged together so tightly that we feel nothing. We absorb all the shock together with the combined force of our bodies and bags. The only discomfort I'm in is thinking about Ex-WW, who is probably still, 10 minutes on, negotiating with supermarket lorries and nose-to-tail traffic to get across the roundabout. Shame. I quite fancied Romania in the spring.
15. We reach the bus station. UWW and I wait until everyone else has got off, then we gradually separate, coming apart like a pair of doughy sweet buns which came from the baker's attached, and I struggle down the bus's aisle with her behind me. As we get off, she gives me a big smile. We have shared a lot together this morning - embarrassment, discomfort, thigh cells - and it's only 7.45am.
16. As I walk the rest of the way to work, bags clocking against my shins, I send up a prayer for Ex-WW, who has perhaps by now got to Blacklow Road, with no help from me. I think: How good it is to be able to help one's fellow humans. Then I think: What a shame I always cock it up.