two, I got on the 207 bus in Southall. It’s a handy bus-stop,
just down the road from my flat. I was the only white person on
it. Not surprising, really. Southall, in west London, is known
as little India.
I’m not a bit prejudiced. Don’t mind who I live among
so long as they’re well-behaved. And they are, these Indians.
In fact, a damn sight more well-behaved than us English. The parents
are thrifty beggars, with their little shops, and the kids are
hard-working at school and well-behaved outside it.
take the graffiti in the park here in Southall. There’s
a sort of a shed thing, divided in four, with benches-a sort of
a shelter from the rain that the kids hang out in. Now if they
were English kids, they’d have real vulgar graffiti all
over it - ‘fuck’ this and ‘cunt’ that.
But let me tell you: there ain’t one swear-word on the thing.
Now there is graffiti - plenty of it. But 99% of it is something
like ‘Nirmal loves Mahnaz’ or even ‘I love Mahnaz’
or else just their names. And that’s it. Oh, I did see a
funny one saying, ‘9:05 a.m. before the maths exam 25/5/90.
Help! ‘or something like that. But it’s all clean.
Not one curse-word.
back to the bus. I was on me way to the cinema in Ealing Broadway.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I thought I’d go and see
a movie. ‘Dances with Wolves,’ the new American one,
was on. So I went upstairs on the bus, like I always do and, luckily,
there was a free seat - I don’t like sitting beside strangers.
There was this big black bloke in front of me. I was looking at
the back of his head and his shoulders, like you do on a bus.
It’s funny, you feel kind of embarrassed doing it, like
you should keep your eyes to yourself. But think about it: the
chances are, the person behind you is doing the same thing. And
it don’t matter to you, you don’t even know they’re
doing it, so why not do it yourself?
I should have mentioned that I work for British Rail. Just in
case you’re interested. Also, I’m single. Me parents
are still alive but they live on the other side of London and
I don’t see them too often. I should visit them, I know,
only son and all that, but frankly it’s boring. I’d
sooner stay at home and watch the cricket.
bus is gliding along now, not much traffic, and stopping now and
then. It’s always the same: you hear the ‘ping’
of the bell to stop the driver, people getting off, starting her
up again and off we go to the next stop. Bloody boring job, busdriver,
if you ask me.
I’m looking out the window, sort of aimlessly, at the people
and the shops………..
you one thing, Indian shops are a lot more interesting than English
ones. I often go for a stroll along the Broadway in Southall,
and I’ll tell you, it’s like a village in the middle
of India. First of all, you have Indian music pouring out at you
from all sides, really weird and screechy it is to me - I suppose
they like it. And it’s all busy and bustly and there are
stalls out on the paths, and foreign voices and wonderful colourful
dresses for the women and turbans for the lads and it smells different
and they sell little religious books and trinkets and gorgeous
golden jewelry and not a white face to be seen.
hardly any white people on the street, like I say, but there’s
some English chain-stores like Boots and W.H. Smith. So you’re
walking along, lapping up the foreignness, and you come to a Boots
and you walk in and it’s so different! All the cashiers
are English and the books are in English and the music is American
and every white person within miles must have come there. And
it’s so open and bright compared with the dark, crowded
little Indian shops. Like stepping into a different world, really.
thing I should mention, their women are so beautiful. I’d
say the proportion of beautiful women in India must be about eight
out of ten. Funny thing is the men ain’t smashers at all.
the bus stops again, and a girl gets on. I notice her straight
away - she’s like a princess, a queen. She has on all the
traditional clothes - a long yellow skirt-thing, and a purple
sort of blouse on top, and she’s got jewelry and lipstick
on and she has this incredible long, rich, dark hair. And her
eyes are like black magic. Like something out of the Arabian Nights,
it wasn’t just her looks. She had a kind of quietness about
her that made you look at her twice. You could tell she wasn’t
a bit vain about her appearance. She just seemed really calm and
happy - serene, like.
only took a few seconds, this looking at her. And let’s
be honest, I was bowled over. My heart just leapt when I seen
her. She was so special that I forgot to be self-conscious, and
I just stared.
I want to make this clear: I ain’t no dirty old man. But
that don’t stop me admiring women. It’s one of my
greatest pleasures, admiring women. It’s what they’re
for in a way, isn’t it? I mean, it’s why they get
themselves dolled up, so’s we can look at them.
when you look at a girl on a bus or wherever, you think: would
I have a chance with her? I mean, I’m presentable enough,
I’ve got a good job and a bit of money. And to be honest
with you, I’d like a steady girl. I haven’t had much
success for a few years now, I’m getting on, I suppose.
I did alright when I was young, but then I used to hang out with
the ‘gang’ and we’d see a lot of young girls
and you’d flirt and well, it just happened naturally. Now
it hardly happens at all.
anyway, I collect meself and stop staring. And she’s looking
around for an empty seat, and there ain’t one, and what
do you think: she walks straight over and sits down beside me.
Well, I can tell you I wasn’t half chuffed that she chose
me out of all the blokes on the bus.
had quite an effect on me, I must admit. My heart is pounding.
I get this terrible urge to say something to her, start a conversation.
Now that’s not the kind of thing I do, I’m mostly
pretty reserved, but just this once I get this notion that I have
to, like it’s my last chance or something, and I say to
meself, ‘Look Terry, you might never get an opportunity
like this again. Go on, talk to her.’ And another part of
me is saying ‘But you just don’t do things like that.’
And the first me says, ‘Look, to hell with it. Go on. Do
didn’t delay. If I delayed I probably would have said nothing.
I went bald-headed in and said to her:
day, isn’t it?”
she turns and gives me this lovely smile and says:
it is beautiful” in her lovely accent.
I’m delighted at her response so I say:
you going out for the day then?” And she says:
I am going to the cinema in Ealing Broadway.”
you going to ‘Dances with Wolves’?”
really! Why, what a coincidence!” she says and she laughs
out loud, a big happy smile on her face.
don’t need to tell you how I felt then. I could imagine
us already, queueing up together at the cinema, buying sweets
and sitting down side-by-side…….. And even if that
was all that happened, it would’ve been enough. But the
possibilities… I’m even thinking what my parents would
say if I married an Indian woman.
we go on talking and I ask her what part of India she’s
from and she says, “Punjab”, and of course I’ve
heard of that because of the trouble there a while back. Turns
out she came to England four years ago with her family. I tell
her, her English is very good after only four years and she says,
“Why, thank you.”
all the time I’m talking to her I’m thinking, ‘Terry,
you are so lucky.’ And it’s not like a normal conversation
because we really like each other and are really interested in
each other and we’re smiling away like crazy. And I tell
her about my job and my parents and in no time we reach the cinema.
we get off the bus together like it’s a dream and there’s
the cinema with a bit of a queue outside it and this guy busking
and she walks straight up to this black geezer in a leather jacket
and takes his hand and says,
would like you meet Albert,” and smiles at me.
And we shake hands
and this Albert is very friendly. But I’m not feeling too
friendly, I can tell you.
the three of us queue up for tickets together and make conversation,
and when we go inside it looks like they want me to sit beside
them, but I make my escape and go off and sit on my own. And when
the film is over - quite good it was, though I wasn’t in
the mood for enjoying it - I make a break for it in the darkness.
I go round the corner to the Pig and Whistle, which is a pub run
by me mate, Tony. And pretty soon I tell him about it and he sort
of consoles me and gives me a few pints. And some regulars come
in and Tony introduces me to them and we have a good old argument
about whether Britain should be in the EEC or not - I reckon we
shouldn’t, we’d be better off on our own - and we
tell a few jokes.
around closing time, I sort of stagger out - it don’t take
much to floor me - and I’m not in the mood for taking a
bus or a mini-cab, so I start walking home. I’ve drunk too
much as usual and I want to sober up a bit. And besides, it’s
a lovely night with a big shiny full moon up in the sky. So I
walk along the old road, whistling to meself, and I don’t
feel half bad. In fact, I realise I’m in a very good mood.
And I think back on what happened on the bus and say to meself,
‘Well, Terry, old son, that’s part of life. She’s
a really nice girl, and she’s happy with her boyfriend.
And you’re a decent old sort and you’ve got an easy
life, so you might as well enjoy it and not expect wonderful,
impossible things to happen. You’ve got yourself, and your
mates, and your Mum and Dad and life ain’t half bad.’
Taken from ‘This is where we came in’
(1992), pages 53-56.