i set off on a shopping trip, with my elderly mother, to Kirkcaldy from beneath dull and overcast skies. leaving Glenrothes behind i couldn’t help thinking it looked a little prettier today, fringed with winsome cherry blossom.
courtesy of Fife Council and my mother’s age and fragility, i travelled for free. i was her +1, her companion.
we boarded the 11.07 #39 and mother occupied the seats reserved for the elderly, disabled and infirm. i am not sure i fitted any of these categories, but she patted the seat next to her, beckoning me to sit down by her. she smiled and began to chat: the inclemency of the weather; the bus and how it smelled. i listened as she reminisced fondly of happier days when she used to babysit her eldest grand-daughter and of house-parties at her late sister’s home in Pitteuchar. in the space of the five minutes it took the bus to sweep through Pitteuchar, i felt myself age. considerably.
sat opposite us was a little girl. she had big brown eyes, long brown hair and a little rosebud mouth. she must have been only four or five years old. she smiled sweetly at us as she sucked on a plastic bottle of mineral water. i smiled back at the little girl and she looked away, shyly. each time i looked at her she would stare right at me, with wide Disney eyes. as my eyes met hers she looked away again, acting coy. she was precocious, yet cute as a button. we continued with this game until her grandmother, with a face like she’d been weaned on pickle, instructed her to ‘come sit with her and stop being a nuisance’.
“aw… she’s sweet – she’s not a nuisance” i said, smiling to the blushing little girl who, now being the focus of all our attentions, began to ‘act up’.
“stop acting up!” her grandmother said.
“aw… it’s just ‘cos we’re all looking at her” i said.
i firmly believe children should not be humiliated in public – they too have feelings too but cannot rationalise. but i smiled sympathetically at the girl again and turned back around to talk with my mother.
the little girl began to kick my seat. i ignored it. annoying as it was, i thought it best to simply ignore it. i heard her grandmother rage her.
“will ye behave!” she snorted. “sit good… and i don’t want any of yer screaming!”
“i won’t” the little girl piped. the kicking stopped.
they stood up to disembark, and the grandmother grabbed the little girl’s arm firmly. as they walked down the aisle i heard the little girl mutter under her breath “i hate you!” to her grandmother.
“she’s a little monkey!” my mother said, quietly. i just smiled. i hated the grandmother too.
we stopped at the railway town of Thornton and six passengers boarded the bus. it was raining heavily and they were all wet and bedraggled-looking.
a red-haired woman, with one arm, embarked. she struggled with a pushchair but rudely declined assistance from a young boy also embarking at Thornton. she parked the pushchair and sat in the seat facing us. she had a hard face, her mouth looked puckered and punctured from years of chain-smoking. her fingers were like stems of ginger, the same shade as her hair.
the infant was awake and, as the engine heaved to pull away, it began to bounce to and fro in its pushchair. bump. bump. bump. banging its head against the back of the buggy.
“jesus” i thought to myself.
the bus rattled through the countryside and merged with a cluster of traffic onto the short stretch of dual-carriageway leading into Kirkcaldy, or the Top o’ the Toun as it’s known locally as.
the rain continued to soak the town, everything and everyone looked grey and cold. everyone looked old.
an elderly man, seated behind and to the right of me, stared into middle distance. he was dressed in tweeds. his trilby hat shadowing his watering eyes. i looked at him, concerned as he had been in this stasis for some time now. he blinked. i sighed a sigh of relief that he was still alive, and not having a stroke.
my mother nudged me: “hoi” she said “you’ve no been listenin’ tae whit i wiz sayin’!”
“sorry” i said and explained my concerns over the old unblinking man.
she looked over at him and remarked “peer al’ manny!”. oh joy.
the rain continued to batter the windscreen and my mother exclaimed:
“oh look at the rain! i shoulda teen an umbrella!”
the bus stopped on St Clair Street and twin septagenarians embarked. they sat directly opposite us. they had the same grey hair, set in the same style. they had the same grey complexion and were wearing the same twinsets. my mother nodded to them, smiling in a friendly manner. they smiled back, two-fold.
“twins” my mother said, sat with her hands on her lap, twiddling her thumbs.
“i have letters to post” she said.
sometimes i marvel at the simplicity of her life. a life without mobile phones and heavy reliance on technology. “i don’t have iMail you know” she said. i laughed to myself.
“when i was young there was nae e-phones or iBay, fowk just hid tae mack arrangements n stick tae thum” she said, in her Highland lilt. i smiled to her. “it’s nae iBay is it? fit is it again? Ethernet? Internet?”
i just laughed. she laughed too. she knows she’s clueless regarding technology but she seems neither interested in it nor impeded by the lack of it in her life. a sweet naivety.
the bus continued to meander through the streets of Kirkcaldy, picking up rain-soaked people on the way.
Victoria Hospital. a boy, with possibly the biggest feet i have ever seen in my life, embarked and sat in front across the aisle from us. his feet were like canoes. perfect for this weather.
“affa big feet ‘at boy’s got” my mother said, aloud. i sank into my seat and looked at the infant in the pushchair in front. bump. bump. bump. the infant continued to bang its head. bump. bump. bump.
the bus drew into the terminus and everyone stood up: the boy with the boat feet; the twins in twinsets; the one-armed dame with the head-banging baby and the tweedy man. they all stood up before the bus pulled to a stop at its designated stance, with a sense of urgency and new-found purpose.
mother and i sat and waited as the bus emptied, and a strange quiet descended on us. upon this cue, we alighted the bus and began our shopping trip.
after a disappointing shopping trip – mother had hoped to buy some new clothes but amusingly only bought a kipper for her tea – we sat in the bus station cafe and took a load off. she looked tired. tired and fed up. scunnered. inclement weather and a sore bunion had taken their toll on her spirit. she was now as bitter as the coffee she was complaining about.
and the complaints did not stop there. i listened to her as she complained about her life and her loneliness. i had heard it all before. but i listened anyway.
as we queued to embark our return bus, we saw the one-armed woman and the head-banging baby. bump. bump. bump.
“jesus” i thought. “that baby’s gonna be brain-damaged”
the infant was still hard at it.
“that bairn needs a crash helmet” my mother loudly whispered to me as the one-armed woman strolled past. the head-banging baby still bumping away in its stroller.
we embarked the 14.20 #39. it was a new bus – the mint green and mauve leather interior was nauseating; the seats already looked shabby with indentations where previous bottoms had sat. the bottoms of those who had travelled before.
a frail elderly man boarded the bus, shuffling quickly along the rain-slippy aisle. the skin on his face and hands looked paper-thin; character etched on his haunted face. memento mori.
the engines fired up and the bus began its journey to Glenrothes.
the bus stopped at the railway station and a very fat man waddled on-board. despite being dressed head to toe in sportswear, he looked most unfit. in his hands, which reminded me of blown up rubber gloves, a huge over-spilling kebab and a bag of chips. the smell of greasy meat and old chip fat made me feel queasy. he waddled sideways up the aisle – too wide a load to walk straight through. he sat in front of us. mother and i watched in horror as he stuffed his face, smiling with each bite and chewing with his mouth open. pig.
“he’s affa fat!” my mother said. “he canna be healthy… he’s gonna hae a heart attack!”
being partially deaf, my mother doesn’t always realise that what she thinks is said in hushed tones is clearly not. it can be amusing, but it can also be embarrassing. i cringed and looked out the window, pretending not to know her, if the truth be known.
mother then continued to prattle on about fat people, the inclement weather and then retold all the (perceived) injustices and unforgiving misgivings. sixty years of being a victim. i listened with a deaf ear. i had heard it all before but i listened anyway.
“i’m so fucking tired” i thought to myself. “it’s been the longest day”
i looked out the window. “it’s still raining” i said, in an effort to change the subject. to no avail. finally i just had to switch off. selfish as it seemed, i had to. instead of being driven home, i was being driven to distraction.
to my right, a blonde middle-aged woman with a funky pink flash in her hair took her knitting out and began to knit. the click click clicking of the needles stepped a nice quickstep and i found myself entranced. almost hypnotised by the rhythm. i found myself day-dreaming. day-dreaming of sunnier weather and lazy days with my lover – wine in the park, lazing on the beach and campfires by a flat calm and remote Scottish loch. i found myself longing for summer.
the rain seemed to have stopped and the sun seemed to be trying its hardest to warm the firmament, trying its hardest to be optimistic. i was trying to be optimistic.
the bus ground quickly to a halt and my day-dream was shattered as a loud, big, surly giant of a man embarked the bus. he knew the driver and they quickly struck up a conversation:
“well hello sir!” the giant said to the driver, loudly.
“hello Davey” said the driver. we could hear him from behind the perspex encased cabin, “how the hell are ye?”
“ach… it’s wan o’ thay days, ken? when ye feel that nae matter hoo well ye try it seems like nae amount o’ wipin’ gets yer erse clean!” he roared as he swaggered up the aisle.
“jesus” i thought to myself. mother looked shocked, but she giggled like a teenager.
the fat man, sponsored by Nike, waddled down the aisle and alighted in Thornton. mother and i watched as he waddled into the pub. “ere’s ‘at affa fat manny! look!” she exclaimed, pointing at him through the dirty window. i smiled at her. a resigning smile, and looked out front of the bus, willing the bus to press on and take me home.
it had been a long day. my feet were heavy, my head was throbbing and my patience negligible.
my mother patted her kipper proudly, which was in a bag on her lap, and the smell of smoked fish wafted through the bus. i now felt hungry and irritable too. “i’ll hae a bit o’ oatcakes wi’ it” she said, smiling.
the rain began, again, and the sky looked full of dirty black clouds. yes, the sky looked oppressive and i could almost feel it bearing down on me, crushing my head. or like a thick grey blanket, being slowly pulled over the earth, suffocating us beneath its weight.
“horrible weather” my mother said, raising her arm to wipe the misted window and gaze outside.
“there’s no point in trying to wipe the window, mum” i said “the dirt’s on the outside”
it had been an ordinary day, but one that had taught me a life-lesson. coarse and vulgar as the surly man was, his words held a blatant and poignant truth.
there are some days that, despite our best efforts, somethings cannot be changed and we just have to roll with it.
(c) Kat McDonald 2014