The bus that takes me into the city is a very quirky bus. It has a meandering route that traverses narrow streets built in the Victorian era. It cuts directly through the inner city badlands where you can see people drinking beer on their front porches at 9AM or brazenly dropping a bagful of garbage onto the street.
Women who get on at the badlands bus stop are all named Britney or Tiffani, sometimes Shontelle. They all wear Adidas tracksuits with gold chains and really tight ponytails. Their silver eyeshadow makes them look like drag queens. Often they have a child or two in tow, eating hot chips for breakfast. The children have names you would expect from the children of Rappers or American basketball players – Aaliyah, Amber Rae, D’Shona. They constantly open and close the windows or jump on the seats. The busdriver gives the silver-eyeshadowed mothers warnings which are ignored. The other passengers avert their eyes and tightly clutch their handbags.
The silver-eyeshadowed crew always get off at Broadway – destination K-Mart. The other passengers collectively exhale but flinch as a large group of Asian university students get on, brandishing their iPhones. The tap tap tap of their texting is like water dripping into a sink at midnight – it seems like it will never end. Their ringtones are designed for hipness – Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, a police alarm. They giggle like schoolchildren whenever their phone rings.
I am exhausted by the amount of texts they send in fifteen minutes, the number of calls they take. I cannot imagine knowing that many people who want to contact me all at once. I feel the weight of my mobile phone in my bag – a model from the Mesozoic era. I am the dorkiest girl in the class – the only one who cannot afford Converse high tops. I pray my phone doesn’t ring. The sheen of the hundred iPhones would cause it to disintegrate in my hands.
A family of Chinese tourists clutching bags that say I ♥ Sydney ask me where a street in Chinatown is. It is inevitable they should ask because I get asked for directions wherever I go. I must look like I know where I’m going. I know the street but don’t think they understand my directions of First on the left, second on the right. They want me to draw a map but there isn’t time. I see them stumble off into Haymarket like four year olds lost in a supermarket. I feel briefly responsible for their fate.
A bag lady gets on. She smells like wet doorways. She is wearing a green cardigan with holes in it. She catches me looking. Moths, she says.
She starts to sing. Camptown Races. It surprises me that she can carry a tune. She taps her feet at the doo dah, doo dah. People change seats or stand at the back of the bus.
A little boy claps when she has finished. I was a choir girl, she says.
I liked your song, I say.
I get off at Martin Place and watch as the bus pulls out from the kerb. The bag lady has her face pressed right up to the window, waving at me like I am a long lost friend.
Another narrow escape.
Riding the buses in Sydney is quite the adventure.