Thursday, December 23, 2010

At Random

The bus slows to a halt at the turn under the flyover and the driver turns off the engine. The traffic is thick and we'll be here for a good five minutes, time enough for a miniature Study of Human Nature. Postures change slightly but perceptibly as limbs are stretched in anticipation of the 'long' wait. The discomfort of cramped limbs seems to double when the bus ceases to move and the wind stops swirling in through the narrow gaps between jammed panes (for most of the windows are normally closed to keep out the chill and the dust) and the frames.

An unspoken-of camaraderie, born of impatience and tiredness, envelopes the stillness, broken occasionally by a sigh or a muffled whisper into a mobile phone- this isn't the right moment for intimate conversations. We envy the freedom of those outside, helmeted motorists powering their way home as we languish within the stagnant confines of an uncomfortable bus. There isn't much to do but look around, because the lights are too dim to read by.

A stout man in a white singlet wearily hands out cakes from behind the counter of his bakery, perhaps asserting his proprietorship in the way he is dressed. A band of thinly-clad beggars straggles by, disabusing the notions of merriment that have pervaded our cubicles rigged up in festive bunting (the debris of which will later have to be cleaned up by people who know few holidays, if any). Street lights glint off the black helmets of motorists making their way home in the rapidly falling dusk, pedestrians weaving their way dangerously through the endless stream of traffic- having to wait for a break in the flow of vehicles can reduce the most optimistic person to sheer hopelessness.

The air reeks with the odour of unwashed clothes, and my suspicions of the source hinge upon the man I am sharing the seat with, for a valid reason. As he hums under his breath, he scratches his ear and moulds wax between his left thumb and forefinger, and I cannot think very highly of his ideas of hygiene. Surely his clothes have been on him for two days on end? The thick, dark stubble on his chin strengthens my suspicions.

The wait ends. The signal has turned green and the bus roars back to life. Five minutes, and I'll be home.


Two Irish writers have strengthened my faith in the magic of words, even if one Ukrainian-born award-winner tried to jeopardise it (not that it is easily shaken, so no harm done). I have recently finished two books- Troubles by JG Farrell, and A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. The first was entirely deserving of the hype and the award of the Lost Man Booker Prize (though I've only read one of the other contenders); the latter, on the other hand, seemed rather reminiscent of a soap opera full of screeching women. Farrell's style is simple, elegant and honest- there is a practical solidity about his prose that brings to life the dreariness of the Majestic- without underplaying the somewhat colourful characters- and the troubled times after the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. Lewycka, on the other hand, creates a 'comedy' that is rather too loud for my complete liking. (If I don't get too lazy over the weekend, I shall have reviews of both the books up here.)

Currently, it is John Banville's 2005 Man Booker-winning novel, The Sea, which has me captivated. His prose is fascinating without being pretentious, reminiscent of a journey on a gently bobbing boat on a day that is neither stormy nor overly sunshiny, but just right.

Hurrah to words.


Anonymous said...

"We envy the freedom of those outside, helmeted motorists powering their way home as we languish within the stagnant confines of an uncomfortable bus."

Not really. Not when there's a sub-twenty-degree cloak over the city, and enough smog in the air to turn our lungs into cinder blocks by the time we get home.

Love your bus rides. You guys travel in comfort.

wanderingbrook said...

I concede defeat :).

But I'd still rather be out in the open on cold, misty mornings, with light warm sunshine on my nape. Preferably on foot :).