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The man on the Brixton omnibus

On the bus home from a superb birthday meal (and thank you to all who were there), it’s standing room only. There is a free seat, but it involves sitting next to a huge white guy in his sixties who keeps muttering to himself.

Then at the next stop there’s a bit of a hold-up, as a small black woman in her forties gets on and takes forever to hoist her two bags on to the baggage shelf. She’s twitching a lot and looking hunted—like a 40-year-old black female Tweek (see illustration). She shuffles along and takes the only free seat on the bus.

And off we go. “I don’t trust the whites,” he says slowly. “I don’t trust them. Black people have got no reason to trust the whites. So I go for the middle ground. Half-castes, they’re the best. And Arabs. Their silky smooth skin. The Jews, though, they’re bringing up the Holocaust again. You know why? They’re jealous. I tell them, you’re jealous. That tsunami, it killed two hundred thousand people. Don’t bring up the Holocaust with me.”

I’m right in front of this pair and can only sneak the odd glance at them. He’s convinced he’s got a rapt audience; she’s twitching violently and looking around wildly in all directions. She’s clearly a very damaged woman. Whatever’s going on in her mind, this is absolutely the last thing she needs to be hearing.

The bus stops, people get on, I lose the thread of the monologue. When I tune back in, he’s gone into seventh gear. “So this man said to me, when the aliens land—and they will land, one day—they will kill nineteen million people a week for three months. Nineteen million. A week. And we have no idea what they will look like. Some of them might be a mile high. We’ll be like insects to them. We’ll be food. A huge tentacle could come swooping down from the sky and snatch you, and you’ll be gobbled up. We'll just be food. Don’t discount it. Stranger things have happened in this world.

We reach his stop. He lumbers off, mumbling something about Hitler. She curls up on the seat, still twitching. It’s anyone’s guess whether he’s actually done her any harm, but I can say with conviction that he certainly hasn’t helped.

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