There he was. Arthur Scargill. Sixty feet high and wearing a miner’s helmet.
It wasn’t Scargill, of course. It was a mural in brick of a steelworker who looked a bit like him. The mural had been made when the gable wall was built in the eighties. At that time the man was living in another city, and so he hadn’t seen it until he came back home to Sheffield. The first time the man saw it he’d assumed it was Scargill because he thought it looked a bit like him. He’d only discovered it wasn’t Scargill a few months later. He’d read the story about the miner’s union paying for his luxury London flat for so many years. It had made him wonder why anyone would commission a mural of a man like Scargill. He’d had a look on the internet and found out that they hadn’t, that there were no monuments to Arthur Scargill anywhere. He felt that this seemed appropriate.
He scrubbed the condensation from the window with the sleeve of his coat. The bus had driven past Arthur Scargill. It had passed the pound store and the cheap hotel. They were approaching Angel Street, which meant…
There she was.
She stood at the bus stop wearing a white raincoat that looked like it was made of some kind of plastic. It should have looked cheap and tawdry but she somehow made it look smart and tasteful. She had knee length black boots and a black hat and a pair of black gloves and she should have looked common but she didn’t. She never did. She looked fabulous, as usual.
He twisted in his seat to keep her in sight for as long as he could. The bus whirred past her and on towards West Bar. He wondered where she came from to catch her bus here. He wondered where she was going. Hardly anyone got on or got off at the stop she used. The road from here headed north from the city centre. He guessed that this stop served the area around Hillsborough but he wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter. She was from somewhere else, going to somewhere else. She was not here.
He’d seen her, at that stop, at this time of day for the last couple of weeks. He’d started this latest contract at the Bank at around the same time. He’d seen her on the first morning. As soon as he saw her it was as if she was familiar to him, as if he already knew her. She stood in a queue but it seemed to him that there was nobody else there, no other people around her. She had bright blue eyes and cherry red lips and a smile like a painting. When she smiled her eyes squeezed tight, leaving her squinting like a beautiful baby. She had a way of standing that emphasised her hips, her body loose-jointed but elegant. That was the word for her. She was elegant.
Infatuated was the best word for him. It was an infatuation; there was no doubt about it. He’d never had one before but knew he’d got one now. He’d always thought of people who succumbed to this kind of thing as being weak-willed or weird or both. He was neither. He was almost sure of that. And anyway, what was wrong with infatuation? It wasn’t a bad thing. It just meant that he thought a lot about her. A lot.
He got off opposite the Law Courts and headed towards his office. He decided to pick up a takeaway coffee from the cafe on the other side of the street. He was still thinking about the girl. At the pedestrian crossing he pressed the button and waited to cross the road. The sign of the green man walking appeared and he set off across the road. There was a screech of brakes and a car halted three inches from his leg. It was a black BMW convertible, although the top wasn’t down. He stopped and looked at the driver who looked back at him. After a couple of seconds the driver gave a dismissive wave of his hand to motion him off the crossing. He saw that the waving hand held a mobile phone. The driver inched the car forward a little. The crossing indicator light had by now changed to the sign of a flashing green man. He stood still. The driver opened his door and shouted at him through the gap between the door and the body of the car.
“Get a move on,” said the driver.
“I’m crossing the road,” he said.
“What?” said the driver. “Just get off the road, will you? I’m in a hurry.”
“I’m sure you are,” he said. “I’m waiting, though.”
“Waiting? For what? Move on, for Christ’s sake.”
He saw her bus go past, on the opposite side of the road, heading on to Shalesmoor. He saw her at a window on the lower deck and saw that she was looking at him. Without thinking, he waved at her. She waved back. She waved back! He smiled at the rear of the bus as it disappeared along the road.
The driver of the BMW got out of the door of his car and stood behind it, the door like a shield between them. He spoke into the mobile and hooked the thumb of his other hand to his right.
“Come on,” said the driver. “Shift. Now.”
“I’m waiting for an apology,” he said.
“An apology?” said the driver. “For what? The light was on green.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“Jesus,” said the driver. “Get out of the way.”
“I just need you to apologise for being such a… spigot,” he said.
“Spigot,” he said. “It’s a quaint word; completely irrelevant of course. It actually means the little tap that they shove in the bunghole of a keg. It’s one of those words that feel good in your mouth. Spigot. It came to me just now. Rather like your car did.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” said the driver, closing the door of the car and stepping towards him.
“Well, I’ll settle for an explanation, then,” said the man. “About what you were doing with your mobile phone while you were driving. I’ll settle for you explaining that to him,” he said, pointing.
The driver stopped and turned round. Behind the BMW lights began flashing on the top of a police car as a policeman got out of the passenger seat .
The BMW driver looked at the phone in his hand and turned back to face the man.
“You bastard,” said the driver.
“You spigot,” said the man, still smiling.
Later, at his desk in the office, he got lost. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. He kept replaying the incident at the crossing in his mind. That wasn’t the main reason for his loss of focus though. It was the fact that he’d waved at her and she’d waved back at him, which meant that she’d seen him. That she’d noticed him.
He doodled some poor portraits of her as he imagined her thinking about him. He wondered if he was in her mind as she was in his. It wasn’t likely, he decided. She wouldn’t waste all her day thinking about him in the way he did about her. It was only then that he realised how much he had been thinking about her. The realisation made him tense. He could feel a slight trembling in his leg muscles, like a greyhound at the start of a race.
All he could think of now was meeting her.
At home that night he couldn’t sleep. He worked through a whole series of ways of engineering the meeting. He could come up with nothing better than being at her bus stop when she arrived. He decided to do it tomorrow. It had become urgent, this need to meet her; overpowering and irresistible. He had to talk to her. He’d get on the bus with her if that was the only way.
He woke early the following morning and scrubbed and polished himself. He put on a going-out suit instead of a work suit, along with a smart shirt and his best brogues. Looking at himself in the bedroom mirror he decided he looked good, and because he looked good he felt good.
He caught the earlier bus and got off on Arundel Gate. He walked across the tram tracks and down Angel Street. He walked past the chain stores and pound shops and pawnbrokers. He passed a girl with toxic red hair who was sitting on a wall and smoking a roll-up. She had the saddest face he’d ever seen. He passed other people hustling to work. He passed clusters of gabbling schoolchildren. He passed a ragged man in ragged clothes who wasn’t rushing to be anywhere.
He came to the stop and waited in the drizzling rain, the drops sliding off his waxed coat. A couple of people were already waiting. After a few minutes a group of people arrived. She was at the head of the group and he turned to face her.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” she replied. She seemed surprised, almost alarmed. When he spoke, her eyelids had flown wide apart, like a startled deer.
“You waved at me,” he said. “Yesterday; at the pedestrian crossing further along the road. You waved at me when I was having that little skit with the idiot driving that black BMW.”
“Oh,” she said. “Was that you?”
“Yes. That was me.” He smiled at her, expecting her to say something about how he had stood up to the idiot in the car. She had an odd accent. It was a metropolitan, from-nowhere accent. It didn’t sound right for her, as if it didn’t belong to her. It sounded acquired.
She smiled back at him. Except it wasn’t a smile. It was a squint. She leaned forward, looking into his face and then leaned back and looked down. Her cheeks turned a shade of warm pink.
“Gosh,” she said. “This is embarrassing.”
His own cheeks warmed. “I’m sorry?” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Something was going wrong. He felt the smile freeze on his face and a stickiness bloomed on the back of his neck. She was scrabbling around in her huge handbag, the handles of which were looped around an elbow. She brought out a soft case containing a pair of spectacles.
“I should really wear them all the time,” she said. “They make dints in the bridge of your nose, though. And when it’s wet like this you can’t see a thing.”
She was holding the spectacles out towards him. It was as if she was offering them to him. He almost reached out to take them from her just as she slid them back into the soft case.
“I thought you were someone else, you see.” She looked up the hill at the arriving bus. “Someone I used to go to school with.”
She put the glasses back in her bag. The bus arrived, its air brakes making a screech like something expiring. The folding doors opened with a rattle and the passengers at the front of the queue began to board. They both stood looking at each other and away from each other and at each other again. The people in the queue behind them lost patience and walked around the couple and started to board the bus.
“Sorry,” she said.
She got on and paid her fare, giving him one last squinted smile through the window as she walked along the aisle. She sat in a seat on the far side of the bus, away from the kerb where he still stood. She turned her head to look towards the court buildings on the other side of the road. He stood and watched as the bus carried her away from him.
He took a different route to work after that day.