The nutter on the bus
There was a nutter on the 176 bus today. An incoherent man from a psychiatric hospital. He got on at the Maudsley, wearing a raincoat and a few days' stubble, and sat in the seat just ahead, and on the other side of the aisle, to mine. "Can I just dodge in there?" he asked the woman who was sitting on the half of the seat near the aisle. She got up to let him in, and after he had sat down next to the window, thought better of taking back her place. This proved a wise policy and an instantly fashionable one, as when the bus stopped next, he tapped his hand on the empty seat next to him - much as I might do to encourage the cat - and called out "there's a seat here, ladies!" to a succession of new arrivals. None of the ladies concerned felt that taking up his invitation was an option preferable to staying on their feet.
Disappointed, he began to commentate on events - or on, perhaps, some other subject, since he said little that was comprehensible - in a louder and louder voice until he found himself in an argument with another passenger, if you can properly define a series of hostile but incoherent exchanges as an argument. The other man - an ill-dressed black man, with a styrofoam cup of hot coffee in one hand and a extinguished cigarette in the other - took offence at the other ill-kempt man (at what, precisely, I didn't hear) and made enough unpleasant and menacing noises to drive him to another seat at the back of the bus, telling him as he went that he "ought to be locked up" and that the system locked up black men much faster for much less.
I reached my stop before the argument proceeded any further. I hope it didn't proceed any further. Neither of them seemed too healthy, to be honest. For that matter, I was off sick myself. Perhaps the buses are full of sick people on a weekday. Perhaps that's what we do, the sick people of London: we travel round on buses, picking fights with one another.
For what it's worth, the black man's complaint - his complaint against the system, as opposed to his complaint against the other man - is true. On both occasions that I've been admitted to psychiatric wards, one voluntary (when I was stupidly removed) and one involuntary (when I was stupidly admitted) a large proportion of my fellow patients - or fellow inmates, as I saw it the second time - were young black and Asian men. You can argue about the reasons as to why they should have been present out of all proportion. Or, indeed, why a fair few of those inside should also have been white men of middle-class origin, men who had lost their bearings. But the fact, itself, is undeniable.
I assume the incoherent chap was on day release. After a few days, provided you are deemed sufficiently healthy and are there on your own initiative, they let you go out for a few hours provided that you're back in time for tea. I remember leaving the hospital once (the first time round, that is: they didn't let me out the second time until they were made to) and getting on the bus to go back to my mother's house.
When I had taken my place, a bloke sat down next to me and started making loud, incoherent and disconnected conversation, just like the chap did on the bus today. Immediately, having been brought up on Jasper Carrot, I thought: when the nutter gets on the bus, why does he always sit next to me? And then, remembering where I had just come from, I reflected that the other bloke might just as easily have been thinking exactly the same thing, but about me.