Fair. It was a mistake that I’d had to catch that bus at all. I’d been delayed at work, typing, and missed my usual 44A. As I waited for another to arrive, it began to rain. Luckily – I use the term sparingly – a bus headed towards the depot from which I could catch another taking me almost to the front door of my house, arrived soon after. I boarded it, grateful for the shelter and the warmth. Showing my pass to the bored looking driver, I shuffled to a seat near the front in the company of three other passengers. Lightly shaking my Mac free from rain, I sat down with a relieved sigh. It had been a bad day. My boss had been suffering from PMT – Post Marital Trauma – as his wife had recently left the pig and, wherever possible, he took his feelings out on us staff. Even in a good mood, he would register eight out of ten on the obnoxiousometer and on that day, a good mood was over the hill and very far away in his mind. By five-thirty, I was willing the clock to turn faster so that I could get home. As it was six sheets of A4 proved my downfall. Eventually clocking off at five-fifty, I missed my bus by seven minutes. Seven minutes, or six sheets of paper that could have as easily been completed on Monday, was all that had changed a life. Making myself comfortable, I took the book from my bag and began to read, following the words with my chubby, nail-bitten fingers. I quickly fell into the tale and was amazed at how quickly we’d arrived at the depot where I had to change busses. Bagging my book I stood, shuffled off and boarded the waiting alternative to resume a similar seat again. Settled once more with only two other riders, I retrieved the novel to easily pick up where I’d left off. There is no better escape than reading and, then, horrors were the best of the best. A book repulsive enough to turn your bowels to water at the turn of every page, was especially unbeatable. Again I quickly lost track of time and place, until the smell of chips and curry snapped me from my fictional dream, someway down the road toward home. A gang of nine or ten youths – obviously high on something stronger than life – barrelled on and took their places at the back. The language became choice, the laughter forced and loud. I tried once more to sink into my book, but the wordy waters in which I could so usually drown, had evaporated to become shallows in which even paddling became difficult. Sighing, I closed the book and placed it back into my bag, frustrated; just as I’d been getting to a good bit too! Staring out through the window into the blackness, I could make out the rainwater creating liquid cracks on the glass as the bus trundled on. The wipers at the front took on a hypnotic rhythm and, soon, I began to feel my eyelids grow heavy with sleep. It’d been a long, long day. The smell snapped me awake; sweet and savoury in the same whiff; curry! Only then did I feel anything. One of the gang had sat in the empty seat behind me and was taking pleasure in dropping sauce-laden chips down the emerging gap between my back and the new, white coat that I was wearing, as my head had wearily lolled forward. The startling warmth of the chip caused me to bolt sharply back against the seat, so squashing it into a sticky pulp against the material. The coat, I knew somewhere inside, was ruined. The gang burst out laughing, loud and long. I turned, shouting at them to pack it in, with a voice close to cracking in temper. The bus turned silent, conversation and laughter stopped abruptly. ‘Or what?’ said the blond-haired chip dropper, dressed in a black motorcycle jacket festooned with silver studs, jeans and boots. Chipper could have been no more than fifteen but was big enough to look of drinking age. ‘Or I’ll show what’ I said. My valour though was now running neck and neck with self-preservation, the both of which were being caught by the odds-on favourite, Fear! ‘Yeah?’ said Chipper sneering and out of nowhere and in one silky smooth movement, I felt a beringed, clenched fist crash into the side of my face, just below the right eye. I fell sideways and a torrent of blows pummelled my shoulders and upper back. Chipper’s mates had obviously joined in the fun and, in my head, it lasted an age. In reality, it was probably all over in less than a minute. The bus had stopped, the driver was shouting, I was oblivious to his words. All I could do was cover up as best I could, though aware of coppery blood in my mouth and of the strong smell of alcohol. The gang had poured what remained in their bottles over me, before throwing the empties down hard on my prone body, laughing still fit to burst. I was lucky. None had broken. And then they were gone, poof, like smoke. Two minutes later I was standing, slowly, dazed, to get off at my stop. The driver asked if I was okay, but didn’t appear overly concerned. That is, until she saw what I had taken up from the seat beside me and held outstretched in my hand. Only then did she – and one of the other passengers, a man – dart forward to help. Too late, I thought. All too late, the damage is done. The police were very good, eventually. They took my statement and promised to go out looking for them. Though they also made it clear that they’d probably be powerless to do much more than caution any of the attackers. My injuries were ‘too minor, love’, they said. A cracked cheek bone, facial cuts and bruises, stiff shoulders and a sore back are considered minor scars nowadays it seems. Externally, at least, I suppose they are. It’s what goes on inside the head that matters most though. I’ve been off work for nine months, a pregnancy term without the baby. I’m going to have to take the retirement package the firm have offered me. The damage to my cheek has made my already near blindness worse and my confidence has deserted me entirely. I can’t even contemplate a bus journey alone, let alone do it, so the white cane I had in my hand as I got off the bus – that which prompted guilty, patronising assistance from the driver and the passenger; the one my attackers must have seen as it rested beside me on the seat – now hangs virtually unused in my hallway. My husband threatens to go out and look for them, but never will. How can he? He’s sixty-eight and asthmatic. We used to go out regularly on the bus. Now I sit at home and read my Braille books, with chubbier, nail-bitten fingers following the words in a line. Donald suffers too, from the assault. And the gang of teenaged girls who assaulted me? I have no idea what’s become of them and I don’t really care. Though I do think that the term ‘the fair sex’ is one that had best be discarded in their case. I pray that they don’t take their aggressions to greater extremes in the future, so that legal punishment becomes a necessity; a punishment that – like the offers of help I received - will also be served too late, for everybody.
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