I’d just missed a number 26 and I waited at the bus stop in Bishopsgate for what seems like ages. I didn’t want to risk sitting down so I was propped against the stop. Finally the other bus – a number 48 – came along so I climbed in via the middle door, close to the disabled seats. Only to find that they were occupied by a seemingly drunk man with a can and his partner.
I said – being by then quite flustered: ‘You’ve got to give me a seat. I’ve had a stroke.’
Whereupon he said: ‘I’VE had a stroke!’
And proceeded to swear at me etc.
The bus had started to move by now so I clung on with my good hand.
A woman sitting opposite offered me her seat. (Everybody was watching. It was 4pm and part of the reason I’d got antsy waiting so long for the bus was because it would soon be rush hour, which I’d deliberately wanted to avoid by leaving the English Restaurant at 3…)
I said: ‘If I let go while the bus is still moving, I’ll fall.’
The man in the seat watched and swore.
I apologised to him, but not very wholeheartedly. I had other things on my plate.
The bus driver piped up, in a resigned sort of way: Please stop fighting…
Which makes it sound as if we were rolling round on the floor. Some hope.
By now the man in the seat could see that I’d had a stroke – as had he. His able-bodied partner was sitting inside; I’d thought maybe she would give way, but it all depended on him. He’d have to get up and step aside while she made way – all while the bus was lurching in that particular way buses have, designed to send passengers sprawling.
Suddenly – presumably having thought he’d misjudged the situation (insofar as a stroke ‘survivor’ can be said to think ANYTHING…) – the man in the seat got up – while the bus was still moving – and said, with absolutely the minimum grace: ‘You have the seat! Go on! You have it!’
His partner was not keen on the idea. ‘Oh Alfie…’ she said, in the same tone of voice the bus driver had used…
But Alfie was certain. She got up too. And I – who pre-stroke would never have accepted the offer (wouldn’t even have been in the position…) – gladly took the seat, and shoved up just in case.
Alfie (who was about 40, or an ill-preserved 30something) didn’t have a walking stick, unlike me – but he did have foam patches on the knees of his jeans, which indicated a lot of falling over. I just imagined his partner’s cries of: ‘why don’t you take the walking stick, Alfie?’.
But he didn’t want to. He still had dignity, or whatever. My heart bled for him.
After about half a minute, Alfie’s bravado was finished; the good thing about stroke victims is that we don’t have much of it. Besides, his curiosity about seeing me, an actual stroke victim – like him! – was too intense.
He came and sat down next to me. His can turned out to be (if this was a short story…) an energy drink.
We talked for a while. He’d only had his stroke 8 months ago, an eternity for him and a mere nothing for me. He desperately wanted me to say I was improving. I disappointed him. But I did say – by way of encouragement – that you got used to it.
Our conversation was halting. Not for lack of material; no, it was the situation and our emotional state. We spent a lot of time thinking of the right word for insoles.
He said he also had epilepsy – hence, I presume, the patches of his jeans.
I said I also had severe heart failure.
‘People like to SAY ‘you’re fine’ just because that makes everything alright,’ I said. ‘But if you look at it from the inside, I’m obviously NOT fine. Far from it….’
He looked at his partner and said the love of a good woman (or words to that effect) made it all possible.
I said I was getting a divorce.
He asked me what I was called. He said John was a strong name – his uncle’s name, in fact.
I said you didn’t get a lot of Johns nowadays.
It was a good conversation. I could have talked to him all day. But alas, the Hackney Road was progressing and The Marksman was approaching. It was time to get off.