One Day in December - Josie Silver
It’s a wonder everyone who uses public transport in winter doesn’t keel over and die of germ overload. In the last ten minutes I’ve been coughed on and sneezed at, and if the woman in front of me shakes her dandruff my way again, I might just douse her with the dregs of the lukewarm coffee that I’m no longer able to drink because it’s full of her scalp.
I’m so tired I could sleep right here on the top deck of this swaying, rammed-full bus. Thank God I’ve finally finished work for Christmas, because I don’t think my brain or my body could withstand even one more shift behind that awful hotel reception desk. It might be festooned with garlands and pretty lights on the customer side, but step behind the curtain and it’s a soulless hellhole. I’m practically asleep, even when I’m awake. I’m loosely planning to hibernate until next year once I get home to the nostalgic familiarity of my parents’ house tomorrow. There’s something soothingly time warp-ish about leaving London for an interlude of sedate Midlands village life in my childhood bedroom, even if not all of my childhood memories are happy ones. Even the closest of families have their tragedies, and it’s fair to say that ours came early and cut deep. I won’t dwell though, because Christmas should be a time of hope and love and, most appealing of all at this very moment, sleep. Sleep, punctuated by bouts of competitive eating with my brother, Daryl, and his girlfriend, Anna, and the whole gamut of cheesy Christmas movies. Because how could you ever be too tired to watch some hapless guy stand out in the cold and hold up signs silently declaring to his best friend’s wife that his wasted heart will always love her? Though – is that romance? I’m not so sure. I mean, it kind of is, in a schmaltzy way, but it’s also being the shittiest friend on the planet.
I’ve given up worrying about the germs in here because I’ve undoubtedly ingested enough to kill me if they’re going to, so I lean my forehead against the steamy window and watch Camden High Street slide by in a glitter of Christmas lights and bright, fuggy shop windows selling everything from leather jackets to tacky London souvenirs. It’s barely four in the afternoon, yet already it’s dusk over London; I don’t think it got properly light at all today.
My reflection tells me that I should probably pull the naff halo of tinsel from my hair that my cow of a manager made me wear, because I look like I’m trying out for Angel Gabriel in a primary school nativity, but I find that I really can’t be bothered. No one else on this bus could care less; not the damp, anoraked man next to me taking up more than his half of the seat as he dozes over yesterday’s paper, nor the bunch of schoolkids shouting across each other on the back seats and certainly not dandruff woman in front of me with her flashing snowflake earrings. The irony of her jewellery choice is not lost on me; if I were more of a bitch I might tap her on the shoulder to advise her that she’s drawing attention to the skin blizzard she’s depositing with every shake of her head. I’m not a bitch though; or maybe I’m just a quiet one inside my own head. Isn’t everyone?
Jesus, how many more stops is this bus going to make? I’m still a couple of miles from my flat and already it’s fuller than a cattle truck on market day.
Come on, I think. Move. Take me home. Though home is going to be a pretty depressing place now that my flatmate, Sarah, has gone back to her parents’. Only one more day then I’ll be out of here too, I remind myself.
The bus shudders to a halt at the end of the street and I watch as down below a stream of people jostle to get off at the same time as others try to push their way on. It’s as if they think it’s one of those competitions to see how many people can fit into one small space.
There’s a guy perched on one of the fold-down seats in the bus shelter. This can’t be his bus, because he’s engrossed in the hardback book in his hands. I notice him because he seems oblivious to the pushing and shoving happening right in