It’s a warm night after a long day of not much but rain. On the bus, the windows on the upper deck are completely foggy, and only the most optimistic (or least secure) of bus passengers decided to make a half-hearted attempt at picking a fight against the persistent mist on the windows.
My last step up the stairs to the top part of the double-decker bus is interrupted by the sudden jolt as the (as usually, hopelessly inept) bus driver cuts off a cyclist as he rolls the multiple-tonne colossus of steel, glass and flesh into action again.
Slightly forlorn, I inspect my prospects for a seat, and spot one near the back. I make my way, nearly falling several times, feeling intoxicated with the less-than-subtle movements of what passes for public transportation these days, while being stone cold sober.
My seat is next to a female, who is fiddling with her mobile phone. An older model, but in good nick, I notice, and feel subconsciously embarrassed about the fact that I care about such things.
She leans over to me – a faux pas if ever there was one in the rulebook entitled ‘Laws for Travelers on Transport for London’s transportation network’. It’s a complicated work, encumbered further by its opacity, obscurity and the trivial detail of not being written down anywhere.
“What do you reckon”, she asks, leaving me wondering about what.
“Watch this”, she says, which I do
“Do you understand what’s wrong with this picture”, she says, which I don’t, while still pondering what it was that I was meant to be watching in the first place.
In what I believe to be my most non-committal way, I shake my head, a motion which makes me realise that she is still leaned over. I can smell a slight waft of her shampoo; slightly sweet, a smell which reminds me of winter orchards, which is peculiar, because the last time I checked, there were no orchards worth speaking of in winter. And yet, the smell… So distinct, so definitely of wint…
“You know. I know you know”. She whispers, almost entirely without breathing. I only grasp the words because my ear is lip-reading the almost imperceivable brushes of her lips against it.
Slightly perplexed by the concept that my ears are somehow auto-didact in the fine art of lip-reading, I turn to her.
Her eyes. Less than an inch away; certainly too close to be able to focus on them. Our noses are so close that I can feel hers, molecules away from mine.
My lips part slightly, as if by instinct, and I manage to think “I wish I had eaten some chewing gum, I might want to kiss her”, before I notice that I am, in fact, already.
The smell of her hair is stronger now, her arms around me. I glance sideways, expecting scandalised fellow passengers, but as far as my field of vision will allow me, I see nothing but bored, sleeping or slightly drunk passengers – or a combination of all of the above.
“Excuse me”, she says, suddenly.
I blink my eyes. She’s holding her purse, and is buttoning the top button in her jacket.
“By all means”, I say, surprisingly smoothly, as I move my knees out of my way. She slides past the seat, front towards me (Another faux-pas! Although, considering what just happened, I think we’ve stopped keeping score on the minor infringements).
She bows down and whispers something I don’t catch, and the sensory impression I note is her, walking down the aisle. With a smart turn, without as much as a glance back at me, she vanishes down the stairs.
As she ducks out of the door of the bus, I catch a glimpse of her hair, again.
The smell lingers with me for weeks.