Cruelty on a country bus mocks the season of goodwill


By Kenneth Roy
Dave gives us moral collapse. How would he know? I wonder when he was last on a bus. I will give you a bit of moral collapse from the frontline – or rather the front seat.

Last Sunday afternoon, I waited for the bus in a smart cafe. The management had provided a selection of Sunday newspapers fit for the Andrew Marr programme. In one of them there was a long feature – an essay I think it was called – by a prominent member of the Scottish literati in praise of the young. The young were a good thing, she thought. Well, I think so too a lot of the time, though I would hesitate to generalise. There are nasties in all age groups.

I could almost hear a desperate editor’s mind ticking over. ‘Last edition of the year. We should do hope. Is there anything to be hopeful about? Ah, yes. The future. Young people. Go commission’. And lo, from across the frozen fields containing many acres of newsprint, there came a prominent member of the Scottish literati bearing tidings of joy about the young. At length.

I walked from the smart cafe to the bus station. It was almost deserted except for a bratpack of six teenage boys – no more than 16 years old. They were loud and coarse, but that was okay; I reckoned they would soon be off on somebody else’s bus. But when the No. 24 arrived from the hospital, they piled on our little country carrier. I was doomed to co-exist with half a dozen hopes for the future.

The next complacent assumption: they will head for the long back seat, where their capacity to cause grief to the human race will be fairly limited. But not this lot. They spread themselves about the centre stalls, leaving the rest of us to cower where we could. A mother with a toddler and an elderly woman from the village were the only other passengers as we set off into the dusk. Dazzling stars – the municipal lights of celebration – illuminated our way into the next town.

A can was produced for sharing. And then – for the sources of our hope are nothing if not predictable – they started throwing screwed-up paper objects at each other. It could have been the Round Table annual dinner. Ah yes, I have attended worse than this.

The reason for the ceaseless hilarity was hard to fathom at first. Something was amusing them – though not, I think, the simple joy of living. Then the word ‘Ree-tard’ – the syllables sneeringly drawn out in the intonation of Hollywood – came floating up the bus.

But what of the ree-tard – the target of their cruelty? It became horribly clear that it was an actual human being – the mother of a school mate mentally incapacitated by some devastating blow.

It was now obvious – if it was not obvious before – that these were not boys from some misbegotten sink scheme. They had a certain facility with words. They were grammatically correct. They could communicate well enough. Places at university – ‘uni’ as it is better known – should be within their grasp, followed by professional qualifications of some sort. They were (I concluded) the sons of the private estate a few miles beyond the village, a settlement of lower-middle respectability. On the day Christ was born, gift-wrapped parcels would await them, and later in the day all the trimmings; to saying nothing of a visitation from granny.

But what of the ree-tard – the target of their cruelty? It became horribly clear that it was an actual human being – the mother of a school mate mentally incapacitated by some devastating blow.

How much more of this could we take before something – or somebody – snapped? How much longer before we went viral on YouTube?

A voice piped up. It belonged to the woman with the toddler. She spoke softly and firmly. ‘I have a brother who is handicapped,’ she said. Just that: she never uttered another word during the journey. What was she risking, this woman? What might the statement cost her?

There was a moment of shocked silence before the laughter resumed more derisively than ever. But there was no more talk of ree-tard and the woman with the handicapped brother was not personally threatened. At the next stop, the driver abandoned his cabin and made a short speech. He warned our hopes for the future that they were being filmed on CCTV and that if there was any more trouble he would throw them off.

‘You shouldn’t have to put up with this,’ I said to him as I left.

‘It’s a daily occurrence,’ he replied wearily. ‘You get used to it.’

And so we experienced our own little out-of-season crucifixion scene, adding to the many others that murder idealism and faith, breed misanthropy and despair, mock the glitter on the streets of our towns, and give us cause to doubt why God went to all that bother. Peace and goodwill? There was precious little of either. But there was also a tiny miracle – someone brave enough to speak for the broken people of this world. We must cling to the miracle.


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review