Tonight the bus I was on, traveling back from my class, ground to a halt on the Walworth Road. The shrill lady driver flashed the lights on and off and shouted into a microphone and through distorting speakers:
'The bus can't move 'cos there's a wheelchair in the way. None of us have to go to West Norwood! Woo-hoo!'
Confusion ensued. Some people left immediately. Others lingered sighingly, used to these kind of interruptions. Some attempted to peer through the wet windows at the obstacle, though the top-deck (where I was) didn't allow a line of sight to it.
Having decided against any social arrangements I might have engaged in, I was not particularly pained by the delay. I was also curious about what was happening. I went downstairs.
A bus was edging around ours. I saw a girl in a wheelchair, hood up, who, noticing the other bus, moved to position herself in front of that one as well. Both buses were in front of traffic lights, which continued to pointlessly shift from green to red and back again in a way that somehow amused me.
I left the bus. A small crowd had gathered on the pavement near where she was, most of whom were railing against the girl in tones ironic and scornful.
'She's discriminating against us!'
'Everybody just feels sorry for her cos she's in a wheelchair.' (There was not a particularly strong sense of sympathy.)
'We should call the police, that's what we'd do to a normal person.'
To questions of the type 'What the fuck are you doing?' the girl replied:
To imperatives of the type 'Get out of the way!' the girl replied:
'Fuckin' walk, you've got legs innit.'
I went up to the girl and asked her what she was protesting about. She declared that she was fed up with waiting at bus stops, while every bus that passed had an excuse for not picking her up, either that they were too full, or that their ramp was broken etc. etc. So she decided she wouldn't let the next one pass. I made encouraging sounds. A lady joined me and in a velvet French-African accent made encouraging sounds also. The girl noticed the bus behind, the original bus I was on, attempt to move around this one. She moved to intercept it. I moved back to the pavement.
I stood for a while in the rain, calmly raising some objections to the heckles of the crowd. Then I moved on. I shouted 'good luck' to the girl and walked further up the road to the next bus stop. From a distance I saw police cars arrive but they didn't successfully move her from the road for the fifteen minutes I was there. Everyone was briefly awake. Sudden comraderies formed themselves, either in arrogant or frustrated enmity, or amused solidarity, or concerned sympathy. Some buses managed to circle the obstruction and bemused bus drivers let people ride for free, given that they had to flee their original rides. A rare interruption here caused a rare fluidity there. Positions and alliances showed themselves.
I wish that I had stayed and seen it all play out. True, I wasn't going to join her in the road, and I didn't like to stay in the crowd. Furthermore there was an immense pride in the girl which I preferred to admire from a distance. Nonetheless, it felt too easy afterwards to have walked away. And I am curious. If anyone knows what happened I would like the rest of the story. You can reach me at h (at) theydid.org (dot) uk