I don’t use the bus very often; I get irritated – sometimes visibly so – by irritating people, and a significant percentage of people on buses are irritating (sorry, but it’s true).
However, I had to go on the bus the other day to visit a relative at Margate Hospital. Usually, I’d walk (as I’m rather a fan of exercise), but I’d been working in the morning, so didn’t have the time – and had to accede to public transport.
As I waited at the bus stop, another chap arrived a minute or so after I got there. I glanced briefly up from my book, but didn’t give him another thought – I was getting to a good bit in the story.
However, a few seconds later, I was aware of a movement right by me. I looked up again and saw that the chap had moved directly in front of me, his back to me and just a couple of feet away. I was immediately perturbed; however, being British, I did the usual thing of scowling, tutting slightly (not loud enough for him to hear me), and stepped a couple of feet to my right. Odd, certainly, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
The chap – without looking round – then moved again, walking crab like to his right until he was stood in front of me again. He still hadn’t uttered a word, but I laughed – I couldn’t help it, as it was just so eccentric. The chap – stalker, I guess I could call him now – turned his head sharply and scowled at me, like I was being rude.
I rolled my eyes at him, shifted back to my original position, and continued reading my book – I really did want to finish this chapter. The stalker followed me a third time; this really was getting silly now. I was forced to drag my eyes up from my book and stare into the back of the man’s head.
“What’s wrong?” I demanded. “Is there something over there you don’t want me to see?”
The man spun round. “Are you talking to me?” he asked.
“Yes.” When I get irritated, I become more sarcastic than I usually do, hence what I said next; “Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather not be, but you’re making that impossible.”
It was only then I realised he was performing to an audience – I wasn’t sure if that audience was real and out of my eyeline – or purely within his own head. I had to re-tune my speech pattern to take into account either his stupidity or his mental difficulties.
“Look,” I said with a sigh, “I’m trying to read this book. Can you just let me get on in peace?”
“But I’m trying to protect you.”
The man looked around, like he was trying to find something to reference, and I found myself looking as well. I was thrown for a minute when I realised that there wasn’t anything there, except a couple walking to the bus stop on the other side of the street – somehow, I couldn’t believe that a couple who had to be in their eighties were going to be much of a threat, but I guess you can’t be too careful.
“Look,” I then said, suddenly feeling sorry for the chap who seemed to have been rendered speechless by my question, “just leave me be; I promise I’ll be fine.”
The guy looked at me again, this time glaring directly at me like I’d just threatened to consume his left leg with nothing more than a light balsamic vinaigrette and some salt and pepper. However, I can glare as good as I’m glared at, and I gave him a hard look now; he seemed to realise that he was dealing with a professional and stopped glaring.
“Alright,” he mumbled. “I just thought you’d need some help, being a reader.”
I opened my mouth to ask him what he meant by that, but I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. In any case, it would have just meant we’d have extended the conversation – and, at this point, I just wanted to ease gently away.
The oddest thing? A minute or so later, the bus arrived. As I sat down in my seat, I glanced out of the window to the pavement, and realised that the chap was still on the pavement. He was also still staring at me, unblinkingly, and I’ve never willed the bus driver to pull away so quickly as that moment. He never did get that on the bus, you know …