“Jack!” Monica prodded him, “C’mon, you’ll be late for work. Jack… you playing wiv yourself?”
“Wot time is it?”
“Time you stopped wanking and brought some money in!”
“Know wot? You’re as common as muck.”
She leant over, squashing her breasts against his arm, said, “Give ’ere, let me do that for ya…”
But he yanked the sheets back and marched his cheated hard-on out the bedroom.
They hadn’t done it for ages. There he was, wanking off next to her and there she was, only too willing. Monica fell back onto her pillow, wondered what she might be doing wrong, but then thought fuck it, she snatched her cigarettes from the bedside table.
“Hello again,” said Jack as he reached the bus-stop, wearing a grin so wide almost all his teeth were on show. “You and I must stop meeting like this or tongues will wag, you know!”
“I don’t know what yu mean!”
“Don’t you, now. We’ve met here at least a dozen times… wot’m I saying,” he interrupted himself, “dozens! And I get a glimpse of you almost every day, or every other day. You never have a friendly word to say to me though I know you don’t dislike it.”
“Is what yu tink I can possibly have to say to someone like you?”
“Well, you could smile once in a while and say, “Hello, Jack, fancy meeting you here,” or “Hello, Jack, nice to see you again,” you know, something like that. Nice n friendly, like.”
“Nice an frenly me back foot!”
“Wot have you got to be so defensive about, eh? I don’t hiss or whistle as you go past like your lot do. Well, do I? No, I most certainly do not! I’m just nice n friendly, as I said. So wot’s a young girl like you got to be so uptight about, anyway, eh?”
“If is woman yu deh look go look inna yu own kind an inna yu own age, yaah.”
“I beg your pardon?!” It was far too loud to be a real whisper. One or two heads turned. Jack put his back between them and Rose, “How old d’you fink I am, then?” Did he look a mess? He knew Monica could look a damn sight better but he thought he wasn’t doing too badly.
“Yu old enough to be me farda, yaah.” Rose turn her face the other way look down the road.
“Wot? Don’t make me laugh!”
But he did. “If I started having kids at fifteen like your lot seem to then I could be your father, grant you that.” She had a nerve! Old enough to be her father indeed! “I’m only -”
“How old you is don’t interest me.”
“Wot does interest you, eh?”
“Wat me do is none a fi yu business.” Is wat mek im no go weh an leff me alone, im is a blasted nuisance, she thought. An where di blasted bus deh?
No blasted bus, near or far, but Lou, as luck would have it, a little up from the bus-stop, Lou stepping out of the newsagent’s and heading their way, hunched over her cigarette.
“Oh ello, Emily! On your way home, are you?”
“Yes, see you.” Rose managed a meaningless exchange for a second or two, but glanced up only briefly at the voice that had so stabbed into her privacy and sliced her open.
“Wot you looking for, then? In a bag that small can’t be too hard to find anyfing, can it? I mean there’s not a lot you put in your bag when you’re going to work not like when you’re going out somewhere special I’m off somewhere nice tonight. Fink I might pop out again this aftanoon n see if I find somefing to doll me up a little bit noffing I hate more’n a woman who lets herself go, can’t be surprised if her old man’s eyes start doing the walkies, know wot I mean? Course, me n my old man we’re just like we were from the beginning, wouldn’t change im for the world n he wouldn’t want no other woman, either, I see he’s alright. No-one goes running after a bit a scraggy chop when he’s got steak at home, know wot a mean? Anyhow I must be off, listen, you fancy coming out for a round of bingo sometime? All girls togevva, we don’t half ’ave a good laugh I got noffing against you lot. My Michelle had a golly when she was little got it from her auntie Diane. Loved that little golly, she did. Really, must go, got a fousand n one fings to do before the day’s done. Cheerio, Emily. See you tomorrow!”
You know them people who talk non-stop? No business if you show no sign of interest, just talk talk talk without them even stop to draw breath? This is a kind of person Rose could never stand, like a whistling woman and a crowing hen; they were an abomination. For one long, long, moment, Rose stood with her eyes closed, her head tilted back, as if knocking back some nasty cough syrup. Swallowed she did, too, then set her lips sternly before opening her eyes once more to find Jack turned to face her, not smiling, or self-satisfied, rather thoughtful, even sad. She would not look at him. Said,
“Here yu bus.”
He continued to look at her.
“Look, yu gwine miss yu bus!”
“I’m not taking this one. Not today. I’m catching the same one as you are,” then he ducked away from the vexed look she shot him. “No need to get your knickers in a twist, I’m not gonna follow you home or anyfing like that… where you getting off?”
He sighed, “Look, you can’t stop me from getting on the same bus as you. There ain’t a law against it, far’s I know. If you tell me where you’re getting off I’ll get off a stop earlier, how’s that?” he tried to be cheery.
“Am I talking to a brick wall or somefing?”
After a long, long while, “Me deh get off by Pallard’s.”
Jack nodded, as if contemplating a second option, decided upon:
“Pollard’s, is it? A deal’s a deal,” but his cheerfulness made no impact on her. He exhaled with a slight whistle, his eyes on his shoes.
Rose jump. He had said her name so sadly, so painfully, but never the pain which she had felt.
“…that first time I spoke to you and made you laugh, your face lit up so much it was an absolute beauty to see… you oughta laugh more often… really, Emily…”
Their bus ground to a halt at their feet.
For her part, Rose hugged her handbag close to her chest and looked obstinately out of the window.
The West Indian conductor stopped in the aisle.
“Two please, mate.”
Rose had no time to protest.
The conductor swung the arm of his ticket machine round till it ching chinged,
He handed Jack the two tickets.
Jack Dunbar and Emily Thompson sat upright. Not a word passed between the two a dem. Once, they brushed shoulders as the driver took a corner too sharply. Not a word.
“Pollard’s is the next but one, so I’ll get off here, okay?”
He reached for the cord overhead, suspended from the back through to the front of the bus like a washing line. Pulled it.
“Some money drop fram yu pocket.”
Jack glanced down to see a coin lying on his seat. “Can’t be mine. I keep my money in my wallet, here,” he touched his breast pocket.
“Well, it’s nat mine neither.”
“You have it.”
“Me say it’s not mine!” she insisted, irascibly.
He picked it up as the bus lurched forward past the traffic lights. “I’ll use it to pay your fare the next time… there will be a next time, won’t there, Emily?”
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