After midnight

Stephanie gave me some great observations, and the excellent topic of stereotypes after being obliged to endure the evening at an awkward house party. Having found a neat little way to utilise such a topic, I now need to pop out at 11pm and jump on a bus to snap the cover photo for this one…

(If you are joining Emmeline’s story today, welcome! It might help for you to begin here.)

After Midnight. J R Manawa.

After midnight most London buses are filled with a check-list of stereotypes. For example, there is usually a small group of rowdy teenagers, either too young or too drunk to be out at such an hour. Normally they like to sing, or make inappropriate statements using inappropriate words at the top of their lungs. They keep each other entertained, so they tend to get louder and louder the longer they are on the bus. Usually they sit at the back on the top deck, unless that space has already been taken by the token couple who are making out, pressed up against the steamy windows without a care to who witnesses their wild passion. A few seats in front, you’ll generally find a few lost souls minding their own business, plugged into their music, wrapped to their eyeballs in knitted scarves and focused on their phone screen, or their kindle, or a real paperback if they are one of the cool kids from Shoreditch. These people are usually on their way home, from a friend’s house, or from work if they are really unfortunate. In the front four seats, right up by the windows, there are always at least six tourists. Yes, six tourists to four seats, and yes, in the middle of the night. Tourists never sleep in London. In winter they will draw heart shaped windows in the steam so they can see the London Eye or Big Ben as the bus rolls by.

Now, on the ground floor of the bus at this time of night, there is usually a raving drunk, a drug addict, or someone with a few screws loose sitting in the back seat. They like to shout a lot, and they like to tell people exactly what they think, even if no one understands. If that fails, they will sit and talk to themselves quite happily. Everyone else will avoid eye contact, and try to give them a few seats of space, which is generally possible unless the clubs have just closed. There is always a guy standing in the wheel chair park too, looping an arm casually through the hand holds that dandle uselessly from the ceiling for anyone under six foot. If he’s not in the wheel chair park, he’ll be leaned against the rail by the door, and he will sigh or jump with surprise every time the door opens and knocks him. He usually wears glasses that make him look too sophisticated to use one of the many empty seats.

If he’s not in the wheel chair park, this is usually because there is a woman with a pushchair in there. After midnight, out with her baby. We all wonder why, but no one will ever ask. In the very front seat, across from the driver, there will be a lady with shopping bags. It doesn’t matter if the last shop in central London closed at ten, she’ll be on the bus at 2am taking her shopping home.

There were various other kinds of people that Emmeline was used to seeing on a bus after midnight, but these were the main ones, and they were all in play when Emmeline and Charon got on the bus at Oxford Circus that night and sat down just behind the tall man who liked to stand, and a few rows in front of the obnoxious drunk.

“Why do you hate me so much?” Emmeline asked. They had walked up through Soho after Angula had them escorted out the ‘front door’ of her establishment, which looked nothing like the strip club they had first entered, and everything like a five star hotel. Once on the bus they had sat in silence all the way up Oxford street and along Hyde Park until the bus turned off near Notting Hill Gate.

These were the first words of conversation they had shared since leaving the club. Charon had been silent, and he seemed a little bit sulky. The meeting with the basilisk had not gone well at all. The only thing they had really learned was that whatever Charon’s feelings regarding Emmeline were, he was certainly not ready to allow her to die.

It was a long moment before Charon stopped listening to the ramblings of the unstable drunkard and turned back around to face Emmeline.

“I spent ten solid years searching for my father when he first disappeared,” he explained, without addressing her actual question, “and yet it was the changelings who finally found him. I never did because I didn’t expect him to be hiding so close to one of the gateways. I believed he left London to put as much distance between himself and the gate as possible.” He paused as he considered his own thoughts, “But I was wrong. That little bay where you spent your childhood, was right in the shadow of the biggest gateway in existence between this world and the other world.”

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