Today was obviously my day for odd encounters as I had another one later this afternoon.
I went to pick up Tigger from work as usual and made myself as comfortable as possible on the hard plastic seat in the bus shelter near her place of work. I pulled out my by now slightly dog-eared copy of The God Delusion and settled down to read. I was alone in the bus shelter, sitting right at the end of the bench, as I always do.
I was a little surprised when a young black teenager, dressed in school uniform, came and sat right next to me. I took no notice and went on reading.
“Excuse me,” he said quietly. I looked up. “There’s some boys after me. If they come will you back me up?” The request was unexpected but the tone was anxious and what could I do but I assent?
I took off my specs and put them and my book away. Not that I was expecting violence but, well, you know, just in case…
“Just as well I’m wearing my big hat today,” I thought1.
I tried asking a few questions about the situation that he, and now I, were involved in but the young chap was very uncommunicative. I did gather that he was due to pick up his brother and would do so as soon as the danger was over.
At this point, two other black youths appeared on the scene. One was wearing vestiges of school uniform different from my protegé and both were perhaps a couple of years older than he.
“Are these the boys?” I hissed in classic spy mode. He gave me no answer but the stony look on his face suggested that they were. They didn’t look at us but swung on the bus stop sign and then went to sit on a nearby wooden bar.
I asked the boy if he was all right and got a taught nod in reply. A bus came, and the two other boys got on it.
“They’re going,” whispered my friend. He waited until the bus closed its doors and departed. Then stood up. “They’ve gone,” he said.
“Will you be all right?” I asked. He nodded and walked away. No word of explanation; no word of thanks. Not that I needed the latter though I would dearly have liked to investigate the circumstances and causes of his fear. Was it bullying? A gang dispute? Is that the end of it or will the story continue? I will never know.
1 It’s a wide-brimmed Fedora, in case you’re curious. The Panama has been put away for the winter.