Sunday, February 12, 2006

When no-body knows where they are it's a great conversation starter

From the Dublin South-West Forum on May 10th, 2005

I was on a bus yesterday evening where no-one knew where they were going.

An elderly, though fit woman hopped on ahead of me and asked the driver if the bus went past "The Old Mill" (a local pub... as you may know, Irish people navigate by the locations of pubs), and he answered, confusedly, "In about ten minutes." As this seemed acceptable, she asked how much the fare was, paid and sat down.

I was next, and popped my 90 cent into the slot. The driver, as is not unusual these days, was a foreign gentleman and he nodded his thanks while I yanked the ticket from the machine and went to my seat.

One stop outside The Square, where the multistorey whatumaycallit is under construction, a crowd of workers jumped on, including two young Indian women, one brandishing what I took at first to be another bus ticket. (There was another bus stopped ahead of us, and I thought perhaps it had broken down and she was taking this bus... you get the idea).

After a short conversation with the driver, they popped those day-pass things into the reader, which beeped agreeably, then sat down two seats ahead of me. A few words in their own language and one shyly showed the paper to the elderly woman in the seat behind her. Printed on it was a Knocklyon address.

"No. I'm sorry." she said. "I'm not sure where that is. Perhaps..?" She motioned to a girl sitting opposite. The Indian girl swayed over with the movement of the bus and showed her the paper.

"No. I'm not from here." She said, in a country accent.

As I thought might happen, the elderly woman and the country girl struck up a slightly shouted conversation (there were foreigners present, after all, and English speakers the world over know that shouting every so slightly makes English sound like any foreign person's native tongue) across the aisle.

"I don't know where I am either," said the older woman, good-humouredly. "I used to know Tallaght, but it's all changed now."

"You're in Tallaght now," was the reply.

"I know that. I need to get off at The Old Mill."

"Oh that's a few stops away yet."

By this stage the Indian visitors had departed to sit near the front of the bus. As people got on and off they talked quietly, but didn't ask anyone else for directions. I wondered how to draw a diagram for someone who doesn't speak English. I took out an old envelope and started drawing bus-stops and roadways and (of course) pubs, but then I gave up. How to explain they needed to get off six stops after the Old Mill pub...??

"Is this the stop for The Old Mill?" the woman who used to know Tallaght asked another girl as we were at the Seskin View crossroads.

"No... I think it's the one after. Yes. Sorry. It's definitely the one after."

In a flurry of parcels and shopping bags, the woman got off the bus at The Old Mill.

As I was about to step off in Firhouse, I said to the driver that the two girls needed to get off two stops from there.

"I know." He said, nodding.

"And Knocklyon is over that way," I said, pointing. I was talking just a little too loud.

"I know."

I wonder if they ended up back in town...

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