(in honour of Eavan Boland)
It was a London summer. It was dry.
Half of June was full of Downing Street,
the Tower of London,
The other half was Chiswick,
I worked on a bus.
It had a number.
There were stairs to climb,
passes to inspect,
cash to collect.
There was a woman. She got on in Camden Town.
She carried shopping. She knew where she was going.
She never spoke to me.
As I walked along the lower deck, issuing tickets,
she showed her travel pass.
I nodded and moved on.
She got off at Swiss Cottage.
I was sure she went on to Golders Green on the 28 bus.
She kept to herself. I wanted to follow her
back through what it had been like during the war
before she escaped Germany.
I wanted to know what happened to her family,
and if she lived alone in London.
I walked from Chalk Farm after work
past Primrose Hill to the bus stop where she got off.
I saw her going into a flower shop on a Friday afternoon.
I was curious. Did she buy them for herself, or for the cemetery?
By August, whenever my bus skirted Trafalgar Square
and drove down Whitehall, past Downing Street, around Parliament Square,
I imagined the bombing,
the woman who commanded the bus,
the woman who conducted the number 24.
The quiet woman recovering in Golders Green,
I asked myself whether she’d got a job
at the Ministry after D-Day.
Whatever she spoke of during the Blitz,
I wanted to know where her country was in those days
and where it was that long dry summer.
I went into and beyond the city,
put on the uniform and badge number 115364,
walked to the garage, signed in, sat in the canteen.
NBA, no bus available, hoping I’d be sent home early.
I went down the stairs into the output,
handed in my box, spare ticket rolls,
cash bags, the machine, and the key to the locker
on the Routemaster where I kept my things.
I walked to Camden Town hoping to see her again
with the face of an unbent survivor.