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November 23, 2010

Exercise in Eavesdropping

The first assignment in Modes Of Writing was to eavesdrop on a conversation. Of course I became utterly carried away, spent an entire week behaving like a top secret government spy, occasionally even wore dark glasses (despite the fact that it was a rather miserable October) and came up with this, which is hideously long. Should probably learn to exercise some self control and also fashion sense. Dark glasses in winter belong to the creepy and the clinically blind; I am neither. Anyway, here it is:


I am somehow trapped on the top floor of a crowded bus to Coventry, my neighbour sat just a little too close, and the dank warmth of his thigh against my knee has me in an intense limpet-like relationship with the window. It is Sunday, and the decision to meet a friend at this time, and in this fashion, is already incomprehensible to me only two hours after I have made it.

The bus seems to be increasing in temperature and decreasing in size. I am sitting in everyone’s lap. The ghoulish man with the nicotine beard next to me seems to be engaging in abusive scent warfare, and condensation is smeared down my cheek. Today I am a tiredly wrinkled weasel of a girl in an overly large jumper, and suffering for it.

(Two stops ago I noticed he was breathing through his mouth and I have not been able to forget it; even as I reflect that it is October, and he probably has a cold. In fact, he does have a cold, as I will ruefully consider two days later whilst snuffling forcefully into a handkerchief.)

Just ahead and across of me, two affectedly pretty girls are distinctly audible to everyone on the top floor, despite the hornet buzz of morning traffic, and I concentrate only on them. They appear slim despite a liberal coating of layers, but the unexpected heat of the bus has baked them slick with dirty perspiration. Ambitious patches of moisture creep intimately from their armpits to sprawl about their upper torsos, and the two girls seep the quiet desperation of the self-consciously sweaty. One of them, a small and moleish brunette, is surreptitiously trying to smell herself. The larger, a dusky blonde, drawls in a light Trans-Atlantic coo and stares absently out of the window.

“Well, yeah, I mean, I was like thinking of trying out, you know? But then I was like, so tired the night before and I just slept like all day” The blonde turns from the window to roll her eyes wildly and puckers her tiny lips in an expression of self reproach. The Mole is nodding eagerly, wisely, and incanting “Yeah, yeah, yeah” in a fit of sympathy. Her ponytail bounces pertly as if expressing its own dumb, parallel enthusiasm.

“And then I was talking to the captain the other day, and she was like nobody turned up anyway, she didn’t find anyone she thought was good enough, and they’re gonna holdasecondtryoutsessionanyway.” The last of this sentence is expelled in a flurry of glamorous hand movements. A series of bangles chime sweetly about her bony wrists.

The small brunette is still wisely nodding and now counters with a staccato burst of “Mm-mm-mm” accompanied by more nodding. She opens her mouth to say further, a moist o of lipgloss hanging in her downy face, but then seems to think better of it. A silence descends on the two as she self-chastises. The blonde patiently waits as a boy further down the bus chortles in an abrasive, braying manner. I wriggle around to stare but he has already fallen silent; I cannot tell who it is. I lose several minutes of conversation in my effort to do this without climbing into my neighbour’s lap. When I rejoin the girls’ conversation it seems to have changed drastically and I wonder what vital explanation I missed. The would-be sportswoman is talking again:

“…with a bag full of nails, like, sticking out of it”.

This is perplexing enough; but then Mole inexplicably lets out a keening wail of “Aaawwwwwwuh...!” appropriate to the appearance of a sister’s newborn baby or the witnessing of several kittens falling out of a box. It is the sound a certain kind of girl makes when she sees an otter in booties. I am bewildered and a little frightened. The blonde follows this cryptic statement with another garbled hilarity, the only words of which I can decipher seem to be “knives”, “toga” and “kinda gross”.

“Oh my Go-d” sighs the Mole. She is jealous, and wears her envy on her sleeve where it chimes in harmony with the bangles of her friend. She does not have the accent, although I begin to sense that she is acquiring it through osmosis. She is small and sleek and velveteen, and rather sweet. She begins to say: “Do you think that-“ when the blonde nudges her violently in the ribs. “Urk” A brief, intense whisper-fit comes upon them both, and I notice the sportswoman shoot me a hostile look- busted.

I try and look small and whimsical rather than intense and creepy, shifting a little in the hope that the panda on my jumper will prevent some kind of confrontation involving adorable bags of nails. The Mole looks doubtful; the two stand up. I unnecessarily make a sound somewhat like “Squee”.

Happily, this actually is their stop, and I watch them stalk off, jeans squeaking tightly in the humid air. Next to me, the flu-ridden nicotine addicts shifts away to other seats and I relax in the euphoria of unexpected blessings.


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