On a bus

Early in the morning, we got on a bus to Edinburgh, at Dundee bus station. It was raining heavily, and the sky was dark and grey. Inside the bus, our seats were blue and comfortable. Isobel sat by the window, and I sat by the aisle, after stuffing my heavy wet coat into the overhead luggage rack. Isobel hung her bright red raincoat on a plastic hook on the back of the seat in front of us.

As the bus left the station, I gazed through the window at a blurry vision of passing traffic, and I decided this would not be a trip for looking out of the window much. Soon, the shuggling of the bus was having the same effect on me as a warm duvet. But – instead of falling asleep, I started to read a book, and Isobel played a game on a Kindle, and then she read a book on it.

As often happens to me, when I’m reading on a bus or on a train, I drifted out of the words I was reading to other times. ‘By the North Gate, the wind blows full of sand…’

One night, I was sitting on a bus, coming back to Dundee from Glasgow. It was very dark outside. Occasionally, a glimmer of a ghost of a car would appear on the other side of the road, heading in the opposite direction. Mostly however, there was nothing outside. The deep nothingness seemed to nudge my gaze to reflections in the bus window. Fuzzy shapes of seats and shadowy figures. Not nothing, but nothing to hold your attention for long. So, I let my eyes be guided by my ears. A murmur, from a few seats down the bus, somewhere near the front. I looked down the row of seats: empty seat, empty seat, and a snoring man. But that wasn’t the sound I’d heard.  I looked further down the bus. There were three more empty seats, and then – a tiny woman, with black hair, holding a baby, and singing to the baby very softly, so softly that I could only just hear the song above the droning of the bus as it moved through the night. The woman and her child were protected from the darkness around them by a shower of light, from one of those little round lights you find above seats in buses. I could not see the woman’s face clearly, as her baby’s head was resting gently against hers, but it was clear that was where the singing was coming from, rising gently out of the light in the darkness like a softer light within.

Later, after our trip to Edinburgh, I sat with Isobel on a bus, heading back to Dundee. Outside, it was too grey and dull to look at the world for long, so I began to read. As often happens to me, when I’m reading on the bus or on a train, I drifted out of the words – to other times. But those are stories for other times.

Harvey Duke

NOTE: For any anoraks out there, the quote from the book I was reading on the bus is from a poem: ‘Lament of the Frontier Guard’ (pp 69-70, in Ezra Pound, Selected Poems 1908-1969 (1975), a translation from the Chinese of Li Bai (701-762 AD)).

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