Every other passenger, but her carer and I, is staring intently out of the bus window. I’m trying to focus on my book. We’re hardly outside of the city zone yet, as if the tarmac has softened in the heat and the cars are having trouble moving. Every bus window is already ajar.
The woman in the wheelchair has a sly grin, an unbreakable spirit. You can tell when another animalistic call is coming: her chin lifts and drops, her head rocks forward as if there’s a wooden joint somewhere on her shoulders. Then she calls out, loud, like Chewbacca or some mating creature in the Serengeti.
Her carer remains quiet, looking down at the floor, avoiding everybody’s gaze. She can feel us silently blaming her.
A few seconds pass. The bus’ handbrake is still applied, engine in neutral, making the whole vehicle vibrate noisily. Then another bray grates through the vehicle.
Minutes pass. We don’t move. In the middle of another guttural moan, her carer interjects, stern.
“Stop it.” She’s loud and curt, trying to be tough, but the woman’s grin remains. Does she even understand her carer?
We’re moving again, very slowly. She seemingly doesn’t understand, and emits another course moan and there’s a jolt that rocks the whole bus and a crunching sound and the majority of the passengers- not the woman in the wheelchair- lean to the right, heads tilted and mouths open like a commuting choir in full song. There’s a car in front of the bus; the car’s driver has pulled out at a green light by the look of it but the bus driver hadn’t spotted the light change. He kills the engine and orders everybody off.
One of the first off is the woman in the wheelchair and her carer. We’re all thinking it, but nobody wants to say it. She distracted the driver. Or at least, the driver was distracted. I watch the convoy trail back to the Gardens where we boarded, past the standstill traffic and the pedestrians who were either tramps or had no initiative to dress presentably, shuffling past the failing Northern Quarter shops. No-one knows who to feel pity for any more.