I had two heavy shopping bags and I needed to get a bus home. It was a short journey that took less than ten minutes. I waited for the pedestrian green light and made my way across the road to the bus stop. Reaching into my pocket I immediately got the CityMapper app out to see when the next bus would come. Fifteen minutes. Goddammit.
With two heavy bags I could do nothing but take a seat and wait. An old woman was sitting on the bench.
“Just the minimum for me today,” she said, referring to her shopping bag. I lamented the fact that I had a talker next to me. I’m always polite and pleasant enough, but making small talk with strangers is never my thing. “No more sherry for me. Had too much in January,” she continued with a cackle.
I smiled and looked out at the passing cars. The grey skies. The variations of people on the opposite sidewalk.
“I don’t even look at the bus times anymore,” she said. “It will come when it comes.”
I nodded my head, deciding not to tell her I’d just looked at my app and knew exactly when the next one would arrive. She went on to talk about the weather, laugh at the shock of blonde hair on a boy who walked past, and even commented on football. I guess she was somewhat entertaining. And she seemed happy – a point which made me thoughtful.
Another elderly woman arrived at the bus stop. I got up to allow her to sit, and was magically relieved of conversation duty, as the two started a conversation off as if they knew each other.
This tendency to talk to make conversation with strangers – it seems to be very much more the realm of older people. I stood on the edge of the road and wondered, not for the first time, whether people get more talkative to strangers as they get older, or were people just more open and talkative back in the day? Is it a case of loneliness forcing old people to talk, or has the society changed? A world turned inward on itself.
Finally the bus came and we all got on. I stood. Finally I could get home and relax with family. As the bus made its way closer to my road and my stop I gazed at her, sitting two rows in front of me. She had some sort of condition that made her head jerk slightly every few seconds. At my stop I got off and made my way home.
There’s a peculiar beauty with old age, I reflected. Even though I never really want to get as old as the woman on the bus, some strange part of me envied her. She’d done her innings. No one relied on her or expected anything of her anymore. She was free to stare death in the face and smile with a sherry.
It will come when it comes.