The Number is 126
I'll be high as a kite again by the time I get to work, I think to myself as I look out of the fogged window and watch a giant squirrel wearing stilettos do a back flip. I shake my head and rub my eyes, "That will be the marijuana again", I yell at the top of my voice at no one in particular. It is 7:30am and I am sitting on the top deck of the number 126 bus to Dudley on my way into work. When I climb aboard the bus in the mornings I am bright eyed, clear headed and smelling fresh. When I get off the bus 45 minutes later, I have blood shot eyes, am stoned and think my hand is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Obviously, my behaviour and performance at work has become somewhat erratic as a result. I like to sit at my computer for the first hour and run my hands gently and slowly up and down its blue screen occasionally licking it and turning to a colleague to comment on how pretty it is. I am new at this job and am concerned that they might think this behaviour is typical of my personality, so I remind them regularly that I am acting like this because I am stoned and not a weirdo, which is usually followed by my request to pop to KFC to satisfy my serious case of the munchies.
The drug taking can be a blessing in disguise however. Take last week for example, I was on the bus and stoned. I was therefore less aware of the homeless man who sat down beside me, I was also less aware of the shit he had in his pants. Were I 'with it' I doubt I would have given him the time of day. I certainly wouldn't have drunk from his can of cider when he offered it and given him a lingering kiss when we parted company.
I seem to have a gift for attracting the lesser beings. Another time a man got on who looked like he had recently been badly beaten up, his sores still open and glistening, a newly rolled 'doobie' hanging from his cracked colesored lips. Out of all the spare seats on the bus he could have chosen, he decided to sit beside me. I was still 10 minutes away from work and already a little high from inhaling whatever it was the school kids behind me were having, so I took him up on his generous offer and shared his blood encrusted joint. I didn't make it into work that day. No, instead me and 'Smacko' spent the day together urinating in alleyways, barking like dogs at passers by and then collapsing into heaps of laughter. Smacko told me he would teach me how to be street smart or "steeth smaaaat" as he pronounced it, through teeth that were rotted away from years of drug abuse. I imagined the day would be like when Scrooge was brought around by the ghost of Christmas past and shown insights into the lives of others that made him become a more compassionate and sensitive human being. Instead Smacko taught me how to shoplift from Poundland and barter with a prostitute, both professional development skills that I have since added to my resume.
Although from separate worlds, Smacko and I had a very special bond, which grew stronger and stronger over time. My face would light up when I'd see him get on the bus, which he did about 2 mornings a week. At first he would be difficult to see through the cloud of hallucinatory drugs that would be encircling my head like a wreath, so I became astute at recognising him by smell. Firstly it would be a faint waft of beer, then the sweet smell of cider mixed with urine and finally the aroma of his stale unwashed crotch. I would hear him cursing at people before I saw him, followed by that animalistic snarl he did so well, which over time would make my heart flutter. Smacko was short and looked older than his age, which he estimated to be about 30. His nose was flattened from his days as a street fighter or "steeth fi - er", his distinguished lips constantly plump and kissable, swollen from playful rumbles with the Authorities. His smouldering eyes were a deep hazy blue with bloodshot corners, his skin tight and leathered, peppered with dirt and lined with deep set loveable wrinkles and smoking lines. He had long manly yellowed fingers, with overly large scabbed knuckles and a tattoo spread across each finger, which said it all... "L. O. V. E".
One day, Smacko brought me to the local cinema. Like teenagers, we skipped the queue and hurried inside without paying. I was in fits of girlish giggles when he turned to the long line of people behind us and threatened to "rough up" anyone who "fucking squealed". Smacko found us a good seat at the back of the cinema, somewhere where he could smoke without being hassled, he told me. It seemed people were always trying to hassle Smacko. He cracked open a can of Dutch Gold and put his sockless feet up on the seat in front of him. I marvelled at the length of his toenails. With one hand down his pants, scratching that insatiable rash of his and one hand around me, he made me feel warm and close. I inhaled deeply and thought that I had never been so happy. Tears of joy welled in my eyes as I gazed at him rather than at the film and swelled with pride as he yelled "bitch" and "whore" at Nemo whenever he made an appearance on the silver screen.
He took me to meet his family who lived in a caravan just off the M25 motorway. Smackos 24 younger brothers and sisters gathered excitedly around their outdoor snooker table to meet me. I felt like a celebrity when I witnessed their fascination and admiration for me. I was touched at how inquisitive they were about the life that I came from, one so different and richer than their own. I smiled at their simplistic, childlike questions such as "what's your pin number lady?" and "where did ya park your car?". Smackos mother was a caring woman, offering to take my jewellery to make it shine like a new penny. He and his mother had the same eyes and hands, thankfully he did not inherit her long pendulous breasts, which swayed from side to side as she sang and took my mobile phone away for polishing. I bid them all farewell and hitchhiked back to my apartment in the city centre with empty pockets and glee in my heart.
I didn't know it then, but that would be the last time I ever saw Smacko. I had been fired from the job at Dudley due to my poor attendance and "inappropriate behaviour". I had been told that spending hours in the bathroom high fiving my reflection and chasing pigeons in the town square on work time was not acceptable. I had always known that what Smacko and I shared could not last, our worlds were just too different, too separate. I never took the number 126 bus again and our paths were to cross no longer. I still think about him all the time especially when I overhear a drunken brawl or witness violent behaviour of any sort. Whenever I get the waft of a freshly rolled joint or see a man pissing down an alleyway, I do a double take and with a heavy heart, I wonder what might have been.