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.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Viewpoint -

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.

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