Sometimes I drive to work. Suited. Heeled. Perfumed. The quiet hum of Radio 4. My thoughts. The world outside observable but remote. Bar a little traffic, an uninterrupted journey from doorstep to boarding school: from one world of privilege to another.
On other days, like today, I take the bus. Jeans. An old sweatshirt. A bag bursting with books and laptop. I take the 7.34 from Shinfield to Reading to meet my writing buddy, Helen. At first, there’s only standing room. It’s the school bus. The commuter bus. Windows breath-steamed. Small boys with pillow-tusseled hair, pale-faced, dirty-fingernailed, shoe laces and ties loose, top-buttons undone – the day not yet begun. Grown men in suits sit with their eyes glued to their mobiles, their mouths and tongues shift with concentration: they’re playing games. Girls, eyes mascara-black, hair chemical-straight, clutch files and whisper and compare their nail polish.
The bus swings and lurches and rattles through the traffic. Red lights. A Tesco lorry turns in the road. With each stop, more bodies stumble into the gangway. ‘Move right to the back,’ the hoarse voice of the conductor.
I find a seat at the back and watch.