A girl gets on the bus. She’s early 20s. Her son is about 7, her daughter 4 or 5. The daughter is wearing a fairy dress and trainers and her hair is wild. I don’t notice the details of the boy. They trail a cloud of chaos in their wake as they move up the bus, the girl shouting at the kids to ‘be’ave.’
Muttering begins. Chuntering. Whispering. Behind me a mum and daughter begin their opprobrium. I don’t hear the words, just the spite in the tone.
The kids do not ‘be’ave.’ They kick seats, shout, bicker and fight each other. The chaos that boarded with them spreads out, touching the passengers, raising a mood of passive-aggressive indignation.
The girl’s phone rings. She answers and starts an angry diatribe against a cold caller harassing her constantly about changing her electricity supplier. Except it’s not a cold caller. When the caller gets a word in and she listens for a second her retort is one of anguish.
‘Oh God, Dave, I didn’t realise it was you. Am so sorry Dave. So sorry to hear about your mam, Dave.’
We become the audience for a confessional performance in which Dave materialises from her phone. We receive an intimate portrait of Dave; his deceased mam, his new wife and the honeymoon pictures on Facebook. The girl tells him she will be at the funeral if she can get someone to look after the kids; either that or she’ll bring them with her.
The kids are beating seven bells of hell out of each other several rows back from where the girl sits, oblivious. Her audience casts unquiet judgment through rivulets of commentary on her and her children.
She ends the conversation and presses the bell to stop the bus. This is my stop too. The little girl runs down the bus as the driver breaks. She smacks her face on the pole near the door and starts hollering. The bus stops. I stand back as the girl scoops up the child and grabs the boy’s wrist to herd him off the bus. The driver is concerned and asks if the kid is ok. The girl brushes him off and steps onto the pavement. The consternated toowit-toowooing on the bus is more clamorous now she’s out of earshot. I step down and look into her face. She’s thin and her skin is tight across her angry jaw. Her huge eyes look haunted and fearful.
‘Can I help you,’ I say, unsure of what I can do or how I can help but unwilling to let her go without offering some gesture.
She bats me away with a dismissive arm. She’s proud and she doesn’t want anyone to see how much help she could do with; more than I can give with a platitude or a moment’s attention.
I walk on, round the edge of the park, not through it, not at this time of day. I hear the girl erupt into a screaming torrent of vitriol directed at the boy. The little girl’s wailing intensifies. There are words in there but they’re not decipherable in what is a primal howl of rage. The sound of human pain slices the evening air into shards.