Early Spring Omnibus

Waiting as the only other customer in the barbers in the mini mall by the bus stop (£6 for an all over number 2, usually with minimum fuss and conversation – a moment of silent reprieve) flicking through yesterday’s Metro, while the old guy in the chair is having a spirited conversation with the usually taciturn barber, in what sounds like Urdu. I recognise a few words breaking through the music of talk that’s like a duet by a pair of masters in its warm interplay of tones and tempos – sentences half completed by one, taken up and flourished by the other – hums of agreement and half laughs of recognition. My turn in the chair and find out that the language was actually Gujerati and he’d been talking about the custom his mother had, when he was growing up in East Africa, that every time she cooked chapatis she would give the first one to the cows – who would queue up every day lowing for their fix – the second to the crows and the third to the dogs – and only then would the family eat.

On the bus to Sainsbury’s opposite the Temple and a bloke who looks like a sadhu gets on. A tall, powerfully built man with a slightly anguished face and staring eyes – he is wearing a singlet, leather trousers, enormous boots, festooned with necklaces and beaded dreadlocks – faded tattoos – stars, tear drops, Chinese letters patterned across bulging muscles – and carrying several canvas and plastic bags; and two pointed sticks of different design and function as though they are staffs of office. He walks past the driver, plonking his bags on the side and starts rummaging in them muttering “bus pass” as a sort of talisman. Not finding it and giving up he stands opposite me muttering about “evil spiders and snakes”. I give him a friendly nod. The driver pretends that he isn’t there. Different rules for Holy Men.

There is something exhilarating about being semi retired and using a free bus pass on a day that would have been a work day until now; even on a wet and wind swept Wembley High Street- even if it is only checking out a different branch of a supermarket instead of the habitual one and noticing the subtle differences between the goods they stock as the cultural composition of the local population changes. Freedom Pass is well named.

By the old clothing charity bins, a man walking a foxhound. Perhaps someone is starting a hunt for urban foxes.



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