Saturday afternoon I was waiting for a bus at a Deeside location I shan’t disclose when an older man asked where I was from.
“Leicester,” I replied, to which he said something vulgar. I said to the man, rather awkardly: “Yes, it is quite a multicultural sort of place I suppose.”
I was trying to be polite and affable and not get into the redundant carry-on of reasoning with the unreasonable.
Another guy at the bus stop, a young guy wearing sensible clothes with a sleeping bag tied to his burgen, laughed suddenly, and, changing the subject (which had become a bad joke about how certain ethnicities handle the cold), asked the old man: “How much is the bus into Aberdeen?”
The old man’s bus came before ours, and then the sensibly-clothed guy said: “Awkward when you get an old boy like that, eh? Obviously didn’t mean any harm, but it’s just awkward.”
We got chatting: boxing, UFC, Connor McGregor, etc. And I’m thinking that thought: is this the kind of stranger-to-stranger chat where we’ll sit next to each other on the bus, is it going that well?
“I’m Michael,” he tells me, reaching out a hand. “I’m Bradley,” I say, shaking aforementioned hand.
So we took the back seat and chatted politics, the redundancy and harmfulness of borders as a concept, and wild camping - the latter of which he’d been doing for the past three days in the Cairngorms.
Michael was from County Monaghan in Ireland, but kicking around the UK, working on farms and odd-jobs, studying part-time to be a personal trainer.
“I was working sales, sitting in an office,” he explained, “from one bill to the next, stressed, and I figured, let’s not get back here again.”
We swapped contact details before I got off a few stops before him.
Sunday night I’ve got a Facebook message, prefaced: “Literally the most awkward question I’ve ever asked, and I understand if you say no...” He’d lost his bank card on the very bus we’d met on, and had slept on a bench. Could he crash on my sofa for a night?
Up to me, I’d have said yes. I live in a world where you can make friends on the fly and take in a stranger, but my girlfriend doesn’t. And that’s fair, she’s never met the guy, and people can be unscrupulous.
The best I could do was give him my code for the 24-hour gym, at the least a hot shower and toilet facilities.
I just wish people still hitchhiked, instead of chain-watching box sets about serial killers and air crash disasters. If gay marriage is legal, and racism stigmatized, how can the world be getting crueler?