I slide the sleeve of my black jacket up and checked my watch for the countless time then looked down the road. The huddle of people who were at the bus stop with me turned to look too. I caught a glimmer of exception on some faces but that quickly faded when they saw that there was still no bus.
Trying not to grind my teeth, I stepped back into the crowd which was a mixture of school children, parents, older adults and workers but I was the only man dressed in a business suit.
‘There should have been two buses by now!’ an angry tubby woman shouted.
‘Three,’ an older man corrected, ‘the eighty-five hasn’t turned up yet.’
‘Mummy, I’m going to be late for school!’ a small girl in a grey skirt and blue uniform jumper cried out.
I looked over. The mother, an African woman with a towering head scarf on, lengthy brown coat and a long, very brightly coloured pattern skirt looked tried. She was half leaning on the double buggy which had months old twin boys almost stacked on top of each other. Behind her, six more children-four girls and two boys, wearing the same school uniform, played on the grass.
The little girl tugged her mother’s coat. The woman muttered and sent her to play with the other children.
Someone tutted at my elbow and I turned back to see a supermarket worker scrolling through his phone.
I checked my watch again. Time hadn’t moved. I grounded my teeth together, caught myself and stopped.
Looking up I saw cars lining the road. Their drivers tapping the wheel or dropping their hands out of sight. One woman was even putting on lipstick. Then the traffic began moving again, the lights further ahead had changed colour.
‘Look a bus!’ a high school girl cried.
Everyone twisted their heads to look and there just peeking around the corner was the front of the bus.
People flew into a flurry. Pushing each other, getting out their purses, money, bus passes. The children raced back from the grass, pressing against their mother and the pram. Someone dropped their phone, but the sound of it hitting the pavement was lost in the babble of voices and mixture of movement.
The traffic crawled to a stop. The crowd sighed like a deflating balloon and became still again.
‘Which one is it?’ the old man asked.
‘I think it’s a seventeen,’ the same girl answered.
‘Pah! Not the one I want!’ he grumbled.
It wasn’t the one I wanted either but it would get me into the city centre of Manchester. I checked my watch again and the hands had crept around. With a sinking feeling, I realised no matter what I was going to be late to my new job again. I needed a car! Or maybe a motorbike? Perhaps, a bicycle would be better? At least my mother wouldn’t have to worry about me as much with one of those.
The traffic moved on and finally the bus pulled up. Everyone charged up as the doors opened. People getting off and on mixed together then broke free of each other. I squeezed on, waving my pass then I saw the bus was totally full.
There was nowhere for me to go as there was a blockade of people before me. I tried to look over them to see if there was any seats, but there appeared not to be. The way to the stairs was also blocked, a mother had her three children pressed into the stairwell.
‘I’m sorry but you won’t get that pram on here,’ the bus driver shouted.
I turned, my hands slipping over the cold blue metal handrail. The African family were trying to get on. The mother was rocking the buggy back, causing the front wheels to lift and her sea of children were all ready on and huddling against the other passengers.
‘Hey, excuse me! No room! Stop!’ the bus driver shouted loudly.
The woman looked up, balancing the front wheels of the pram on the floor of the bus.
‘You’ll have to get the next bus. I’m sorry.’
The woman said something under her breath that sounded like it was in a different language. She slowly reversed the pram and yelled at her children in English, ‘get off! Come over here! Tilly, come!’
The children, like tumbling puppies got off the bus and clustered around her. The little girl who really wanted to go to school burst into tears. Two of the boys started fighting and the other girls walked back to the grass again.
The doors of the bus closed and we left the family and a few other people behind us.
I clung to the handrail, though there was no need really, the press of bodies against mine was enough to keep me stable. I shut my eyes tried hard not to think about who’s fingers had just brushed my hip and who’s elbow had bumped into my bag.
Taking deep breaths, I thought about over things, like what I was going to say to my supervisor, what I might grab for lunch today, if I’d get the guts to talk to that pretty blonde a few desks away from me.
First though, I had to get through this.