It’s rush hour and the bus is packed and I’m on my way home and reading my book. I don’t want to look at anyone never mind talk to them, but after a few stops the woman beside me gets off and a man who’s been standing sits and bumps his elbow into me by accident, and I make the stupid mistake of looking at him.
He says he’s sorry, I say it’s okay, and I hope that’s that but it’s not, because he thinks then, I don’t know, that we’ve bonded or something and I hope he asks me what I’m reading so I can be rude and say a book, but he doesn’t, he asks if I live round here, which I would’ve thought would’ve been obvious, but it’s not apparently, so I say yes and he says he used to live here ten, twenty years ago, but now he’s just passing through on the way to Greenwich.
So I nod and go, oh right, and he says it’s not the same here anymore, not like it used to be, and I look at him and say something stupid like all cities change quickly, especially London, and he says, no it’s not that, it’s the people. It used to be better here. People used to look after the place. Not now. Not since this lot moved in.
No, it’s a shithole now, he goes on, and you – you’re in the minority in your own country. How can you live here among these people, they’re not like you. To which I say nothing and just look back at my book hoping that’ll be the end of it, but it doesn’t matter anymore because he’s the kind of guy who just talks even when no one’s listening and I could be anyone, anyone at all.
I mean, look at the shit on the floor, he goes on, and the way they live. They bring their country’s habits with them, but do they fit in? Do they – what’s the buzzword? – integrate? No. You might as well not exist. This might not as well exist. It’s not yours. It’s theirs, just with your buildings and your infrastructure and your supermarkets and your jobs.
They do it their way, not yours, and I’m trying not to listen or look him in the eye and trying to continue reading too, but I can’t even take a word in never mind a sentence, so I look up and see we’re about to hit the next stop, Bricklayer’s Arms, and I decide, fuck it, I’ll get off here and walk. Anything rather than listen to this guy.
So I do. I get up and say, sorry, mate, my stop, put my book in my bag and he says all right, mate, no probs, see you around, though maybe not here, eh?
And I nod and he says, what’s your name by the way and I tell him hoping he doesn’t say something like strong name that and nothing like these darkie or paki ones, but he doesn’t and before he can open his mouth and continue his rant I ask him his.
Ali, he says. Nice to meet you.
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