The Wheels on the Bus

I wonder if they’re taught the rules in school or is it one of those talks that your parents (and by ‘your’ I mean the parents in movies because face it, Pakistani parents never have ‘talks’ with you...) have with you when you’re 10 years old – is there a book that is handed out for free in shopping malls and grocery store, and if so, how come I didn’t get it?

Maybe the Brits are just born with an instinct for proper bus behavior, just something that runs in their blood so that they don’t even have to think twice about falling into their place in the queues at bus stops and giving up their seats to the elderly, making their way down the moving bus so that when it finally pulls to their stop they don’t make the rest of the passengers wait and just hop out – a polite ‘thank you’ to the bus driver who bats it right back, ‘cheers!’.

I’ve read those Facebook posts about racist people on the bus or at the underground/subway but so far the most kindness I’ve seen is on the bus (and of course it has to do with the fact that we’re in Nottingham; I mean in London this driver barreled right past us at 11 pm in the night even though there was not one but two Pakistani guys trying to wave it down!). 

People just naturally fall into lines at bus stops here, which is actually kind of weird because that means nobody really sits down on the helpful benches under the helpful shades and at rush hours these lines can snake down and around the curbs (also people don’t really crush into each other here, the concept of personal space is quite prevalent). 

The bus driver welcomes everyone with a hello love or at least a nod when they step on.  Almost everyone acknowledges the bus driver with a thanks as they step off and the bus driver acknowledges everyone, even if this means that he or she has to say ‘thank you, bye, cheers, have a good one love, see you later, bye, thanks’ ten times in a row.  And I always wonder, don’t you get bored of saying it so many times all day long?

I see a lot of old people on the bus.  And I admit that I had a preconceived notion that the wrinkly white-haired elderly were going to be more inclined to say something racist or just give off negative vibes but funnily enough, it’s always been the older people who have struck up conversation with me on the bus – ‘I reckon it’s a bad accident if it’s causing so much traffic’ or something similarly sweet and nondescript.  Or just smiling at me or maybe popping open the seat because I’m weighed down by my penguin-parka and four bags of groceries. 

You also hear all sorts of stories on the bus and life plays out in cute moments like the four-year-old who kept jumping up and down the back seats and then after his mum asked him nicely to settle down, he waited a few seconds before asking for attention: “Mau-mee?”
“I love you.”
I mean, that’s pretty cute. Especially in that sweet accent.  Little kids talking in British accents is the best because it just seems so funny that people that tiny are speaking so properly.

Then there were these two other toddlers sitting on the seats at the bus stop (finally! Someone uses the benches!) and they demonstrated what persistence is – arguing about something with just two phrases, “Oh no it isn’t!” and “Oh yes it is!” and they said that for about seven minutes with varying degrees of emphasis and cuteness till finally their bus came and they toddled off with their mum.

People here often give up their seats for someone else and I spot random acts of kindness frequently. 

It can be quite busy in the mornings with all seats taken and then an inside bus-queue which is quite uncomfortable actually because now there is no personal space and every little shift means you’re nudging someone’s shoulder or poking their legs with your bags. 
One morning I walked all the way to the back of the bus – the two guys in front of me in the queue outside had found seats and I had spotted one but this other guy wearing headphones was sitting next to it with his bag on the empty seat.  I thought if I stood suggestively near enough he would pick up his bag but that didn’t happen for the first 15 seconds.  Of course if I was back in Pakistan I would’ve just asked him to but here… yeah, no, haven’t you heard of all those racists shouting ‘bloody Paki!’ on the bus stories?

A disadvantage of being a brown person visiting the Western world is the uncertainty and lack of confidence, the persistent effort to simply stay in the background so as not to ruffle any white feathers.

And then, one of the men who had gotten on with me leaned forward with a loud: “Excuse me mate, can you move your bag?” and the headphone guy was startled into politeness, “oh yeah, sorry!” and I settled down into the seat with a blushing thank you.  I did get a bit damsely in my heart. My knight in a shining winter coat, if you may.  

When it comes to kindness to strangers, the biggest barrier for me isn’t that I’m not a kind person and I simply don’t notice when someone else might need help – it’s more the awkwardness or mild fear of being rejected or met with an icy ‘no thank you’.  The truly kind people, I guess, are the ones who don’t care about that.  In which case I am not a truly kind person because I spend too much time seesawing between “I should help” and “I can’t I’m too shy and I don’t like saying things to new people even if its small talk or I like your headband kind” (seriously, I went to the salon here and spent so much time feeling uncomfortable about the fact that all the ladies were chatting to their respective hairdresser and I wasn’t, debating whether I was coming across as rude, and then agonizing over the right thing to say so that she would A. understand my accent and B. be able to respond easily following the laws of small talk.  It took about fifteen minutes but I think I finally settled on “Have you had a long day then?” and it did lead to some minutes of very satisfying insignificant but nice conversation).

And so if I see a lady weighed down with six bags, I’ll first think: “Oh I should ask if she needs help” and then immediately be besot with the thought that what if she doesn’t trust me and thinks I’ll run away with her bags and so forth.  I go through the same thing in Pakistan but there I’m more likely to go up and strike conversation, offer help with a bag or a baby.  It’s the same idea, I guess, here in England any rejection or ‘no thank you’ would always be underlined with a ‘is it because you don’t trust a South-Asian looking female’?

Sometimes I wish I was either a truly kind person or a total douche bag, because then I 
wouldn’t be slipping into this pool of uncertainty (that you don’t need to analyze to realize is idiotic and unnecessary) every time I see a young parent struggling to get their pram down the stairs or over a curb!

I’d be like the man in a scruffy hat who saw a small toy on the floor of the bus and the lady with a small kid exiting the bus right in front of him and simply picked it up and followed her to give it to the kid – not the female who looks at the toy then at the parent and child, and thinks, but what if it doesn’t belong to that kid? What if she thinks I’m creepy? What if she thinks it’s disgusting that I gave a toy that was on the floor of a bus to her precious toddler (and if you think about it, that is kind of unhygienic…)?

Maybe when I’ve spent some more time on the bus I’ll get comfortable with the notion of kindness to strangers (in particular, British strangers), and hopefully not let a stray drunken comment or two about Indian food and foreign bastards bruise my slowly emerging belief that most people here are pretty nice…


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