Murder on the bus
When a shameless callgirl broadcasts her banal business on a commute, Fiona Barber’s mind turns from her novel to real-life noir.
One of the great pleasures of public transport is that you can while away your trip engrossed in murder. Noir of the tartan, Nordic or Northern Irish variety is best, or one of the much underrated Kiwi thrillers. Ahhh, 25 quiet-ish minutes of bus book bliss. Enter Ms Meg A Phone. She hopped on the bus, whipped out her cellphone and became the booming soundtrack to our staccato rumble through the suburbs. She made three calls in all, without a break in between. These featured someone called Jeremy. A medal, with “best mummy in the world” on it (nice, but twice). A thank you for a handbag. And somewhere she’d visited which was pleasant enough for a break but no, she couldn’t possibly live there. And on it went.
It would have been different if she’d dropped in a secret visit to the Kremlin or a strategy for overthrowing the government of Burkina Faso, but this was coma-inducing. I suppose we should be grateful she wasn’t regaling us with the details of her ingrown toenail surgery.
It would have been more bearable if it wasn’t so ear-pounding and I could concentrate on the grisly dismemberments outlined in my book. But here was a woman who could bellow for her country. “The gold medal for the endurance blather event, with a 9.6 for eardrum-whomping, goes to Ms Meg A Phone of New Zealand.”
I thought I’d seen it all on the buses – everything from intermediate kids in the luggage rack to a shameless masturbator. But Meg’s obliviousness was something else.
To be fair, rude riders are a minority; most passengers are considerate. We’ve all seen the harried-looking commuter reluctantly taking a call and trying to make it as short and quiet as possible by craning over and hissing into her handbag: “I’m on the bus, Bevan. For God’s sake, the bananas are in the fruit bowl.”
Overseas, phone felons have led to enraged commuters brandishing jammers. It has also resulted in academic studies – research by University of Michigan sociologists found that cellphone calls were, on average, louder than face-to-face conversations, but the real problem was that they were perceived to be much ruder. Truth is, we just don’t like ’em.
Roaring Meg was still at it when I stood to get off the bus. I could sense tension in the air, a kind of collective pent-up fury. I just hope everyone got to the last stop unscathed and that a new genre wasn’t created: public transport noir.