Thursday, January 27, 2005

El Primo Bandito and the Double Decker Bus

Those you misfortunate enough to use Dublin Bus on a regular basis will know that rare is the bus that does not have to venture through Bandit Country. Dublin's less salubrious estates are striated through the city like fat in streaky bacon, and the only thing a man can do is take his chances, while observing certain rudimentary safety procedures.

Tonight An Spailpín mounted his bus in the city centre, at about half-seven or so. A quick glance showed the bus population to be low, a result for that time of the evening, and a reasonable sign that a seat was possible.

Until, that is, I saw a rough looking dude hunched over, in a virtually foetal position, on one of the back seats of the bus, just behind the heater but cutting off the seats behind him. Crisis.

Rule Number One when riding the Bandit Bus is Never Go Upstairs. You're all alone upstairs and if you're luck is out you may be surrounded by such citizens as can make the top deck of the bus feel like a reversion to childhood, and getting one's head flushed in toilets by boys who are rough.

So upstairs was out. Going past this Primo Bandito was not an option either - recently in the wars, El Primo Bandito had a leg in plaster, and it, coupled with his crutches, was splayed out into the aisle forming a hazard to man and beast. There was an innocent looking little girl inside the man, and I felt the flood of pity one feels for someone in those circumstances, as well as the shameful flush of relief that it was her and not me. Not noble, but terribly practical. I assumed the position in the well of the middle door, and awaited developments.

As the bus crawled up Westmoreland Street and across O'Connell Bridge, it became clear that the girl was less lucky that I had thought. Instead of being an innocent to whom fate had directed that unconscious oaf, she was actually some sort of minder to the thing, and it seems that the bus was in danger of going past their stop.

She took him by the shoulder, and started shaking and pleading. "Come on Frankie - we're almost on O'Connell St, we are. It's time to get off. For fuck's sake Frankie, come on! Frankie!"

Did any gallant help her out? No, they did not. What could they have done, other than dump Frankie into the street and leave him there, unconscious on the pavement? But the Irish attempt to effect the British stiff upper lip lacks a certain froideur - it quickly became obvious to me that everyone on the bus was wondering how exactly this human drama would play out. Would Frankie and his minder make it home, or were they condemned to ride a Dublin Bus perpetually around the city until such stimulants as Frankie had indulged in wore off, or would the driver stop the bus, put on the hazards, grab Frankie by the jackeh, and cast him from chariot?

The driver, who must have been aware of the situation, was doing nothing. He was paid to drive the bus, and that's all he was doing. We were going past Eason's now, and the minder's pleas were getting desperate.

"Frankie! We're past Store St now! Oh Frankie, what am I going to do with you? Now I know what it is to look after a man! Now I know!"

At this stage, I had removed myself from the doorwell, and had squeezed in beside a clean looking young lady, well dressed with cute pink woollen gloves and a nice coat, who was sitting in one of those seats behind the driver. Having read a lot of Victorian novelists in my youth, I buried my head in my book (John Buchan - can you believe it?) and made with the stiff upper lip. M'lady was less discreet - she perched on edge of the seat, head twisted around to take in the show.

And then, something odd happened. A number of Malteesers, the popular sweets beloved by all, started to flow down the aisle of the bus. And Frankie, like the Kraken, awoke.

The chain of causality I didn't know then and I can't figure out now - Frankie's Handmaiden may have taken a sack of Malteesers and clubbed him over the head until she got some sense into him, or she may have taken Frankie's personal stash - to coin a phrase - of Malteesers and dashed them to the floor, finally breaking the glamour that lay on him.

For whatever reason, the Malteesers had done the trick, and now Frankie was proceeding at an unsteady pace down the aisle, with much the same gait as Frankenstein's monster when he first got up off the table. Replacing Baron Victor Frankenstein's "he's alive! he's alive" was Frankie's minder's remarks that "I had to ih, Frankie, I had to."

Strong tack, Malteesers.

Frankie continued his way slowly up the bus. I got a proper look at him now. As well as the leg in plaster he had arm bandaged up as well, and he sported those green knuckle tattoos that are not the sign of a member of the Knights of Columbanus. And, once he got as far as m'lady of the pink woollen gloves, Frankie listed dangerously to starboard, and got set to fall into her lap.

M'lady was horrified; as far as she was concerned, Lucifer's fall from Heaven to splash down in the Infernal Sea was in the tupenny place compared to Frankie's imminent arrival in her lap. And just when An Spailpín was thinking nastily to himself "curiosity killed the cat honey - this is a lesson you won't forget," Frankie somehow righted himself, and made his way off the bus. I would have bet cash money on him choosing falling over on his grizzled head as Frankie's chosen modus exitus, but Frankie dismounted in the accepted manner, the bus pulled away and our adventure was over.

All the way home, John Buchan thriller ignored, I watched the Malteesers roll up and down the aisle of the bus, looking in them for something symbolic of the incident of El Primo Bandito and the Double Decker Bus. But do you know reader, two hours on, shaved, tea-ed and biscuited, I don't think they meant a damn thing?