Like Busses

I have a strange approach to memory.  I mean, I don’t know because I don’t really know how anyone else’s memory works, even when they say ‘oh my memory is terrible’.  It’s all approximation, baby.  But I’m going to go ahead and presume that mine is neither orthodox or particularly good.

 

I can’t remember dates, years, locations, events or even humans very well, but if I try to remember a very particular thing, like, when did I first hear the phrase, ‘Like busses, there’ll be two along at the same time’, what I see in my head is a wind swept playground in front of a low red brick primary school.  I don’t know if there’s any correlation between this phrase and the place, but it’s what I see in my head.

 

I am envious, in awe and suspicious of people who can recall moments with ease.  How the fuck does anyone write an autobriography?  ‘I first met Joaquin at a drinks party given by Sooki.  We were at a bar in Mayfair, The Chiselled Chimp’.  He was wearing a blue cashmere rollneck and initiated conversation by enquiring after my Chagalls.  We drank ‘Noisy Williams’ till dawn ..’  (Yes, this is my idea of glamour. No apologies.)

 

How do people remember to remember this detail? Or do people who write autobiographies have the self belief to think ‘I should probably note all this down because I’m the kind of important person who will have to write an autobiography one day’? Which is how and why they end up writing an autobiography.

 

So this is why I can pin down (or think I can pin down, in some way) the phrase, ‘Like Busses’ but not where I spent Christmas two years ago.  Oh and if you’re not familiar with the phrase, “Like Busses’, it basically refers to the idea that nothing will come along for ages and then two will come along at the same time and can refer to anything; job interviews, lottery wins, unsolicited travelling salespeople.  It’s kind of rueful and carries that sort of pissy British way of downplaying the hand of fate with it.  I recall hearing it a few times in it’s full form ‘Like Busses, you want it for ages and then two come along at once’) until finally I must have given off the air of being someone who understood the phrase at which point it was shortened to ‘Like Busses, isn’t it?’  With whom I shared this landmark moment remains a mystery of course, but when I think of this particular ‘Like Busses’ I see the shop front of a butchers in my hometown.  Memory, huh.

 

And I also wonder if the phrase ‘like busses’ is in itself, a bit ‘like busses’, because, after a long drought, I heard it twice yesterday in entirely separate contexts; I said it at exactly the same time as another woman in the post office queue and then we’d laughed at the very ‘like bussiness’ of it.  The second time was later, and with thanks, in my own head, when I opened my email to see that two piece of flash fiction had been accepted after a long and stomach churning silence.   Like Busses, I tell you.

Midget Baby

 

‘Well, spit it out then –you don’t have to swallow’ Chloe flipped the water bottle 360 degrees.  Yvette kissed her teeth in agreement.  How nice, a rare moment of solidarity between two rival gang bosses, she thought.

‘Right, thanks for that, Chloe.  You could do that, Skye, if you were concerned. Or you could just not do it all if you didn’t want to.  Use your assertiveness – remember our assertiveness from last term? Well use that to say, no thank you Lawson’

‘His name is Dawson, Miss’

‘No thank you Lawson, that’s enough for now. Let’s watch a film or hold hands or …something else.  You could say that and not do it at all.’  She looked at the clock – why hadn’t it moved?  Sweat sprung along her hairline and spread in her armpits – not the menopause, was it? How bloody apt. Sex Education withered my ovaries.

 

Chloe voiced her inner scream.

‘Miss Nesbitt, man, this is long!’

‘I know, Chloe, but we need to do it – just try to stay calm, could you?’  She looked at the pile of word-searches teetering on the edge of her desk. Remnants from a cover lesson: Religions of the World, they were called.  Could she make them last till break if she explained them slowly?

‘Does…anyone else have a question?’

‘I do’.  The voice was sing song, smartarse.

‘Yes Patricia?’

‘If only a little bit of sperm gets in, do I get a midget baby?’

‘Sorry?’

‘Like that guy on Games of Thrones?’

‘Yes like the guy on Games of Thrones!’

‘Or the adverts.’

‘Yeah the adverts.’

She closed her eyes in a slow blink, as if in thought.  When she opened them,

15 year 10 girls were looking back at her, waiting for her to answer.

 

It made sense.  They knew enough about sex to roll their skirts up to their knicker line, but not enough to close their legs when they sat at the bus stop, enough to giggle at men who  stared at them through car windows but not enough to understand the casual violence of the words flung in their direction.  Enough to demonstrate blowjob etiquette but not enough to grasp basic reproduction.

 

They were still looking at her.

 

‘No it doesn’t matter about the sperm.  It’s only one sperm that gets you pregnant.’

‘Do you have kids, miss?’

‘No’

‘Do you want them, though?

‘Man, shut up, that’s personal to Miss, isn’t it?’

‘It’s okay. Grace.  This is an honest space.  We’d like to, and we’re trying.  Now, enough of the questions. I have a word-search for you to complete.  Religions of the world! It is, however, a little bit tricky, this one, so I’ll just talk you through it, okay?

 

Eventually, they settled.

 

She cast her eyes over Francesca and Ruby, who were stooped together, sharing headphone buds.  Chloe was applying blusher.

‘Miss, can I talk to you?’ asked Oliva, a new girl from another borough.  She was tall and awkward and her mouth hung open.

‘Of course – here?’

‘No – after.’

‘Okay’.

She hoped it wouldn’t be for long – she hoped that Olivia might forget – she needed coffee and a silent scream in the ladies’.  But once the bell had rung and the girls departed with nary a glance in Miss Nesbitt’s direction, Olivia was still waiting. In fact, she was sitting down in a chair opposite her desk.

 

Miss Nesbitt stooped to the floor and began raking the blank word-searches towards her.

‘Okay, what’s up?’

‘I was wondering – can you be just a little bit pregnant?’

Olivia had put her notepad on the desk and was fiddling with the strap on her rucksack. On the pad there was a biro drawing of a boy in a baseball cap, like a Duplo figure, lines and circles.

‘Well, you’re either pregnant or you’re not.’  She scrunched up a loose sheet.

‘Yep, but can you be a bit pregnant and then it go away?’

‘you can miscarry or have an abortion, but, no, otherwise, you’re pregnant.’

‘Even if it’s just a little bit?’

Miss Nesbitt stood.  Her knees creaked.  She looked at the girl in the chair.

 

‘Is there something that you want to tell me? Remember, if you are in trouble, I may have to let somebody else know.  I can’t keep it a secret, okay, Olivia?’

‘It’s this.’  She bent down to her rucksack and banged her forehead on the edge of the desk in her hurry.  She muttered ‘God’ and tears jumped.

 

She held out a white cylinder, the length of a pen, and gave it to her teacher.   Miss Nesbitt knew what it was and she knew what she saw.

Two lines.  One fainter than the other. But two lines nonetheless.

‘Is this yours, Olivia?’

‘I did it this morning.’

‘Right’

‘I thought, because it’s just a faint line, it might be, not really, you know?

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

Olivia nodded.

Yes, she should get the counsellor, or the girl’s head of year.   But she’d never seen the two lines before.

‘Is he here?’

‘We only did it once. Before I left my old school. I’ve only done it once.’

‘Right.’

‘So, because it’s only a bit there, it could be wrong, I thought?’

Miss Nesbitt put her hands in front of her lips in prayer position.  Her eyes moved from side to side; to the girl, it looked like she was reading a very serious text message. Finally, she closed the classroom door, threw the word-searches near the bin, smoothed her hands over her skirt and came to sit next to the girl.

‘Okay, Olivia. Thank you for coming to me, that must have been very difficult for you, so well done, okay?  I think I can help you with this, but what we need to do is trust each other – no-one else – for the time being – can you do that?’

 

The girl closed her mouth and nodded.

 

Soho Walk Up

The first sign was the handshake at the door.  For a tall man, he had small cool hands and skin as soft and plump as my old home economics teacher’s.  Waterfall: the hand slipped out of my grip before I had made my impression, the one I’d honed on my dad, which told everyone that I was firm, in control, serious about the work.

 

We were in Soho, but not the Soho that I wanted, that I saw my friends and peers getting familiar with:  Bond girl receptionists, fresh flowers, coffee you could look forward to.  I was in the Soho of shimmer curtains and cartoon eyes urging you to ‘look!’, drawn thickly in magic marker on fluorescent cardboard.  Alleyways that you’d swear where not there the week before last.  Shit smells. Not even DVD, but VHS.

 

We were on the first floor above an open doorway next to a Chinese Herbalist’s, teetering on the brink of Wardour Street.  It was scuffed, scraped and cracked, dust trails and polyester curtains lending a sort of dingy glamour if you really searched for it. This room told me everything that I needed to know about the job – and still I was here.

So, I guess that tells you everything that you need to know about my career.

 

Despite not being a car, I made an unnecessary three point turn in to a boxy fuchsia pink bucket chair, so low to the ground that my knees bounced up to my rib cage. Obviously, I felt that this wasn’t awkward enough, so I looked down between my legs in surprise, noticing a big bruise of a water stain on the lower half of the chair as I did so.  What on earth was I doing?  I was seized by the sudden desire to let out a huge vaginal yawn, but I didn’t know what that meant and I doubt it would have led to anything other than an escalation in self diminishing acts from me.

 

He sat opposite, sleepy cat, endless legs crossed and contrived in unfathomable ways.  Sordid, born to it.  One hand cradled his phone, the other caressed a label dangling on a beaded plastic tie from the arm of the chair. Caution: Flammable.  It was the only new thing in the entire room.  A double bed gave a Gallic shrug in the corner.  I could hear Soho outside, so I knew I hadn’t died, but the very air in the room shrunk out all life, charisma and energy.

 

Someone had to, had to, say a something.

 

 

‘Thanks for seeing me.  I really admire your work.’

‘Great.’

‘It’s an interesting job.  Lots of possibilities I think.’

‘I can smoke in here.’  Statement of fact, to himself: the day was looking up for him.  He moved his attention to a pocket in his skinny jeans, pulled out a tin and started rolling a cigarette.  His eyes flicked back to his phone screen.

 

‘Would you like to know about the work that I’ve done?’

My voice was girlish and shrill, creeping higher as I inched my way through the sentence, a trait first observed in me by a bitter choir leader at Brownies, one which had persisted (due to my failure to address) into adulthood.

 

It’s worse when I feel like I’m struggling.   I pulled my skirt down towards my knees –  damn bucket chair – and with no response from him I kept talking, a desperate, rickety Beckett-y monologue which took in and spat out details of my training and first gigs, inspiration and ambition pumping like pistons to cover the cracks in my resume.

 

My voice sank upwards, joining an exclusive frequency enjoyed only by electrical hums and dog whistles.  The clip clop of a phone alert barely made the chorus. I knew it wasn’t mine, ringer off at the door of course, but I did take a break from all the great faces that I was pulling as I sold my tarnished wares to see him glance down to his phone hand.  Glance then stay, rooted, finger twitching over the keypad, tapping in his response.

 

In an audition mate.  This girl’s a dick’.  Probably, probably that, I imagined, all the while teeth and eyes and tiny voice keeping it bright and right.

 

I’d decided to tell him how rude he was, that I’d spread the word about him to others, because I had that much about me, by God I did– until I remembered that I didn’t need to do any such thing. I pressed my hands into the sharp arms of the chair and levered myself up to standing.  My skirt rode up and over my bandy, low-lying gusset, revealing no doubt to the observant eye all those tiny little white elastic worms that wriggle free to escape a dying pair of tights.  It helped – all true warriors wear little skirts, don’t they? Better to take charge in, of course.

 

‘Do you want this job?’ I said.

He looked at me. Then my gusset, then back at my face – he did have lovely eyes. I pressed.

‘Because if you do, put down the phone, take your top off and get on the bed.  The room doesn’t pay for itself and neither do I.’

 

He shuddered, muttered sorry and stood up, stuffed the still smouldering fag butt into his jeans pocket and started undoing his shirt buttons.  I moved over to the bed, opened my toolbox and started laying out the kit.

 

When I turned around he was ready, the shirt stuffed in haste down the side of the bucket chair.  Too brightly he struck a pose, nipples rosy, fingers splayed, hands outstretched.  Ta-da.

I looked at the water stain and gestured towards the bed.

“Let’s get this done.’

 

Sometimes I just need to remind myself that I am, in fact, the boss.