Monday, 5 March 2012
It is just a little past 1am on Saturday night when you come out. A cool breeze hits your face and provides a refreshing change from the wet heat of the indoors from which you've just escaped.
The burly security guard at the entrance is still checking in a queue of late night revellers, but as you exit, he looks up and his face lights up in cheeky recognition. He is the one who, earlier in an exuberant mood, bared a gold tooth in a smile as you went out to answer a call. 'Fashionista sister!' he'd yelled gaily, and you'd just known that those who heard him gave you not-so-subtle onceovers to check if you deserved the accolade. You laughed and hurried away.
'Calling it a night already, darling?' He says presently as you shimmy past. He is bantering with everybody in the queue, and you guess from his accent that he is Nigerian.
You return his smile and promise breezily, 'Yea, but I'll be back another night!'
Out on the street, you do a quick mental calculation of which of the slew of buses will get you to Trafalgar Square quickly. You know you want the N29. Your steps are more confident then, as you fancy yourself a bit of a savvy lady of the night in tune with the night time transport system in London. Every party girl needs to know this.
And you are a party girl. Of the non-existent kind.
The N29 has its moments. When it pulls up, a rush of people surge forward as there is a mad scramble for seats. The mood in the bus is lively. There is a group of French girls with smudged eyes and roughly tousled hair channelling somnambulant chic – the just-out-of-bed-with-last-night's-makeup-on look. They are talking animatedly and bursting loudly into laughter. Occasionally one of them swears gustily in French (putain! merde..!). A tuneless, but enthusiastic rendition of Jessie J's Price Tag can be heard from the upper deck.
'It's not about the money, money, money…!'
You smile indulgently at no one in particular and decide it's not so bad you did not get a seat after all. You are standing in the middle near the exit doors, and from this vantage point you can see the whole lower deck of the bus.
The four inch heels help too.
Turning slightly left, you clock a couple in the far corner of the last row of seats. She has a hand resting on his thigh, and his arm supports the head she's nestling in the crook of his shoulder. You can tell he is listening to music by that bop of his head, and the hypnotic finger-tapping of one who is lost in his music, and it is almost soothing to watch.
On the opposite end of the same row of seats, an African man has pulled his cap low. Moments ago he had been gesticulating and yapping loudly into his BlackBerry ('Tell him I say he must make sure it is done!'), but now, his pot-belly is rising and falling gently, and even though you can't hear, you can tell he is snoring softly.
Your eyes move back to the feet of the black girl standing next to you, and for the second time during this bus ride you almost feel another wave of dizziness wash over you. She is wearing a pair of vertiginous heels that, with the slightest misstep, could land her in Accident and Emergency. Perhaps her boyfriend shares your concern, judging from the way his white fingers clasp hers tightly. They are both tall, but in her strappy heels the tops of his blonde hair ends somewhere around her collarbone.
'Forget about the priiiice tag!' Sigh. The singing is starting to get annoying.
You shift a little to let a middle-aged man off at Warren Street, and you note with slight dismay that this movement has brought you next to the glowering youth who earlier enquired of passengers studiously ignoring him: 'Is Simon Cowell gay?' and then later: 'Simon Cowell is gay! SIMON COWELL IS GAY!' He is on the unattractive end of inebriation, and as the bus takes off from the curb he lurches drunkenly into you.
'Oh sorry, man!' He apologises sheepishly, and you flash him a quick smile and then hastily avert your gaze before he asks what you think of Simon Cowell.
The bus is stopping at Camden High Street. Here, it looks like people have now come out to play. A bittersweet feeling settles over you – perhaps you departed too early? You entertain thoughts of sending a quick text to the friends you know are gathered in a bar not far from where you are now. But you are yawning before this idea gets comfortable in your mind, and you know your biggest fantasy right now is to be home in bed.
As you prepare to get off the bus, you cast one last glance around the lower deck and marvel at the allure of a city like London – with its pubs and wry sense of humour, its refreshing mix of the marvellous and the absurd and the effervescent mischief of the 'after-hours' faces who call it home.
You are smiling as you step off the precipice and walk briskly – to home and bed.