The thermal leggings did little against the biting cold wind.
“Wind straight off Antarctica,” her mother had often said about this type of cold, but Peta felt that London wasn’t afflicted by winds from Antarctica. She didn’t think it was the Arctic either – it was just bloody cold.
She was sick of waiting for buses. The novelty of the red double decker had long worn off. Now, she dreaded going upstairs to find abusive and aggressive teenagers or, possibly worse, the overly chatty community police. It was true that the community police had kept the teenagers from vandalising public transport and places no longer seemed so scary with these pairs walking around. They did a great job – Peta just wondered why she always ended up in awkward conversations with that one old bloke, the one who always seemed to be on his own, and whose casual racism against everyone – Africans, Jamaicans, Eastern Europeans, Asians and even Australians – was offensive, but took more energy than she was really prepared to spend fighting it.
This afternoon, she decided to not risk it, and stood in the bottom of the bus, near the back. She looked up into the top deck and spotted the guy – talking to a young African mother and her child. The mother looked uncomfortable. Peta wondered if she should do something. Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She fumbled through her layers and gloves and eventually managed to get it out.
Peta thought of their cold flat with the tiny bar heater that threw almost no heat, with them sitting on the couch watching Eastenders with cups of tea. She then thought of the pub, with the open fire, beautiful wood panelling, some soccer (football. Remember: football) match playing in the background on the telly and a large pint of larger with a dash of lime. She fumbled a message back.
“Yes! On bus, there in fifteen.”
When she walked in the door, she saw Fraser had grabbed their usual booth and had her pint waiting. She rushed over and gave him a kiss, then started the disrobing. Hat, scarf, gloves, jacket, second scarf, second jacket. He laughed. He didn’t feel the cold like she did. She climbed into the booth and he wrapped his arms around her to warm up. Terry and Gareth shouted something at the television, then came and joined them. Fraser, Terry and Gareth had gone to uni together, had all moved back to London and had ended up with the same company. They lived a couple of streets away from each other and spent most of their spare time together. Peta called them the triplets. They didn’t mind.
“Bloody Samson couldn’t get the ball in the net if it fell on him. Tosser.”
“I know. He’s so annoying like that.” Peta loved to goad the boys. She had no idea about he sport, but didn’t mind them watching it. Terry gave her a look of despair and addressed Fraser.
“I don’t know, mate. You get yourself an Aussie bird, normally they are into sports. Yet you pick one who is only into sarcasm. I think you could do better.”
Fraser pulled her closer and stuck his finger up at Terry.
“How about we meet your girlfriend and we can compare notes?” He did an exaggerated look around the pub. “No? No? Ah, piss off, mate.”
Terry sullenly drunk his beer. Gareth looked about awkwardly. He’d always been the quiet one in the group. He smiled at Peta. “How’s work?”
“Fine. Boring. Fine. I’m struggling with this whole dark winter thing. Leaving home in the dark, coming home in the dark, how do you do it?”
Gareth shrugged. “It’s normal, innit? Sun’ll be back in a few months, no stress.”
Peta forced a smile. A roar went up from the group around the television. Gareth and Terry raced over. Fraser looked at Peta with a begging look. She smiled and nodded; he kissed her and raced over. She watched them as they talked about the goal that had or hadn’t happened. She didn’t care. She was pretty happy.
By the time the game was over, Peta wasn’t as happy, but at least she was drunk. Fraser had only returned to talk to her a handful of times, bringing drinks each time. She finished them, playing snake on her phone. Now, the boys returned, Terry bringing with him a girl he’d been talking to.
“Peta. This is Sondra. She’s a girl. In case you were wondering.”
Sondra gave Terry a confused look and turned to Peta. She held out her hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“You too.” Peta shook her hand. “So, Sondra, what do you do with yourself?”
Sondra took a sip of her cider and answered hesitantly. “I’m a Community Police officer.”
Peta tried to hold back her laugh. “How interesting! What do you do?”
“Most of my job has been going into schools and getting to know the kids. The little kids. We’re hoping to catch them before they start carrying knives and getting those awful dogs.”
“You go on the buses much?”
“Nah. I always got stuck with this creepy guy, so I refused to do it. In the end, they got rid of him.”
Peta leaned in. “Do you mean that old bloke – the one with the really obvious toupee who is always being racist and sleazy?”
“Terry. Yeah.” Terry looked up. “Oh, no, not you. The sleazy guy’s name was also Terry.”
Peta laughed. Terry went back to talking football with the boys.
“So, they got rid of him?”
“Yeah. They had eight complaints in one week. So they dumped him.”
“He’s still doing it.”
“I saw him tonight. He was hassling an African woman. I was going to stop him, but then I got a text message.”
Sondra shook her head. “I had heard he hadn’t returned his uniform. They’ll probably arrest him.”
“How did he get in at the start?”
“No idea. See, that’s the problem. Most of us are doing a pretty good job. Then a tosser like him comes along and ruins it all. It makes me so mad.”
Sondra finished her drink. She looked at her watch. “Got to go. Eastenders.”
“Isn’t that over?”
“My girlfriend tapes in for me.” She looked at Terry, and then winked at Peta. “Hey, free drink’s a free drink!”
Peta laughed and shook Sondra’s hand.
“Fair play. See you ‘round. Good luck getting rid of sleazeball.”
She nodded. As she put her outdoor clothes on, she talked to Terry. He begged her to stay, she made her excuses. Peta put her head on Fraser’s shoulder. Distractedly, he patted her head. She closed her eyes and thought of sunshine.