Naomi and I were stood in a queue, waiting for the Number 1 bus to appear and whisk us home. Our clothes were growing damp in the drizzle and the bus was late. We weren’t in the best of moods.
I noticed a man striding along the other side of the street, laden down with bags from Primark and Sports Direct. His coiffed blonde hair bounced with each step and his shirt flapped open to reveal a vest and flashes of armpit.
The pace of his stride caught my eye – I assumed he was making for a waiting bus – and the size of his cargo held my attention. It was quite a haul.
As he approached his bus, the flimsy Primark bag split dramatically and a bundle of new clothes fell to the greasy pavement. Cheap fibres began to absorb city grime. The man looked down in disbelief. I imagined the transition from shock, to dismay, to anger that was taking place inside his head.
After a furious pause, he knelt down, adjusting his skin-tight jeans to prevent any further embarrassment, and began stuffing the grubby garms into the Sports Direct bag. It was soon overflowing but he continued to cram them in, using his fist like a potato masher to drive his precious purchases deeper and deeper.
I leant across to Naomi and suggested that perhaps the clothes weren’t that precious, given he was now mulching them down with his entire bodyweight.
Everything finally fit and he staggered back to his feet, taking a moment to correct his jeans and hair. He turned to walk away.
Naomi leant over and grumbled, “He’s not even going to put the broken bag in the bin, is he.”
It appeared unlikely. The bag lay helpless on the pavement and the man was eyeing his bus.
But wait! Just as he was about to set off, he paused, as if forgetting something. Was this his moment of redemption? Was he going to prove his curmudgeonly audience wrong and clear up after himself? Such blatant littering would’ve been inexcusable, after all.
Alas. He swivelled towards the bag, a malicious look on his face, and kicked it from the pavement onto the road. Satisfied, he marched off and got on his bus, dusting his hands clean of the whole ordeal. The abandoned bag drifted in the breeze for a moment and was then swallowed down into the murky underbelly of an approaching bus.
What a performance! And how deftly it captured the problems of our time: Mindless hoarding of cheap products made in far-off lands. The belief that these things will make us happy and the anger when they don’t. And the complete disregard for our surroundings, as we extract and pollute our way to environmental disaster.
Naomi and I were appalled. We continued to grumble and complain about our heartless culprit, and about the failings of the world at large.
Eventually, we ran out of things to say and stood staring across the road. The bag had been digested and spat out by the bus and lay sodden next to a drain. People traipsed along with bags of shopping and take-away coffee cups, heads bowed into the drizzle.
I snapped out of my depressing reverie. “Gosh, aren’t we a couple of old farts,” I said, to no-one in particular.
The man next to me in the queue looked offended, but Naomi agreed. She suggested that had we been a couple of dwarves in a fairytale, we’d be called Grumpy and Judgy.
Whilst we considered this unlikely scenario, the Number 1 bus made a sloshy appearance and everyone began shuffling onboard.
“Two to Chillingham Road, please.”
“Howay man! Ya gannin’ doon Chilly Rood, like. That’ll be far poond twenny”
“I beg your pardon?”
(OK, not everyone in Newcastle speaks like that.)
We climbed the stairs to the upper deck and settled in to watch the damp city lurch past, like birds on a wire looking down upon the trivialities of life.
Had we been too harsh on the man? Perhaps he was just having a bad day and didn’t usually litter the streets. After some deliberation, we resolved to be less judgemental next time. To be a tad more upbeat about things.
Let’s see how that goes.