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It’s the eyes, man. The fucking eyes. They look at ye like yer something disgusting, something deplorable. But also something to be pitied. Like a mangy dog, man. Like a scabby fucking stray. They see the dog, and they tut and whisper among themsels. A pure sin, they’ll say, what a shame. But would they help the dog? Would they fuck. They’d look at it, everybody always looks, but they’d just as quick look at the floor. They’d cross the street and quicken their pace. They’d clutch their handbags, or their bairn’s hand, tighter against their body. The dog’s no to be trusted.
And how? How do they even know? Ye walked into the town centre, away from the prison gates. This was a deliberate act. You’re jist getting on that bus the same as everybody else.
Ye have yer carrier bag, could it be that? Everything ye own, yer entire worldly possessions, stuffed and crumpled intae a cheap plastic bag. And yer shirt. Only it’s no your shirt, yours was torn and bloody. Your shirt was taken fae ye the night you were lifted. No, this is some charity shop shirt they gave ye on the way out. A minging, fusty smelling thing some auld cunt probably died in. It looks fucking terrible. Its two sizes too big for a start. Ye’ve tried to make the best of it by tucking it into yer trackies, but it looks like a dug’s dinner man.
But no, it’s no even that. It’s no yer clothes, or yer cheap fucking carrier bag. Not really. Ye just have the look, man.
Fuck thum. Ye look back at them, challenging their stare. ’Mon then, that look says. Ye got a fuckin problem it asks, and ye jut yer jaw defiantly towards them. And their eyes flicker wi panic then. They look at their shoes, fiddle with their tickets, they shift their bags onto the space next to them. This seat’s taken, the bags say. And it’s always the same fucking dance man, the same auld routine, from back before ye were even inside. It’s fucking tiresome. And it’s detrimental tae yer plight. ’Cause ye dinae want to fight. Ye want tae talk to people, tae make them understand that ye’ve changed. But how do they know ye’ve changed when they dinae even know who ye were to begin with? And why should ye have to justify yerself tae this lot, tae complete strangers? Nah, fuck thum.
So ye sit up the back, in the furthest away seat. This is where they want ye tae sit, where they expect ye tae sit. This is where ye belong – the back row. The back eh the classroom, the class clown, the fucking dunce. Where were you when they gave out the brains? The back eh the queue. The back eh the dole queue. Fucking jobless. Fucking hopeless.
Yer stomach fills with bile and anger, the familiar venomous anger man. The same rage that’s bubbled inside ye aw yer life. It runs through yer veins and seeps out yer pores like a toxic, twisted sneer.
But no, this is no who you are. No anymore. These cunts don’t know you, they’re ignorant, oblivious. Ye have tae push on. Naebody said it was gony be easy, naebody’s gony hold yer fucking hand. Take every chance that comes man, grab the bull by the fucking horns, prove to yerself yer a changed fucking man.
What about this lassie getting on? This is the sort eh chance ye were on about. Go on, fucking talk tae her. She looks pretty, like. And about your age too. Legs that go aw the way up tae Aberdeen, and a tidy wee set eh tits. But she’s got an intelligent look about her, a confidence. It’s intimidating man. It makes her look like a woman, no a wee lassie. No like the birds back on the estate. They just seem pure immature man. They talk and there’s nae intelligence there, it’s just vulgar, always just a mouthful eh idiocy. No like this lassie, she’s got a nice mouth like, real sensuous lips. And her body, lithe but curvy beneath her clothes. Nice clothes, real expensive looking. Too expensive, too expensive for the likes eh you. Shut up. Jist shut up. The bull man, fucking grab it for fuck sake.
Ye stagger a bit, ’cause the bus is moving now, and ye grip the pole to regain yer balance. Using the pole, ye swing yer body onto the seat next to her and the tired fabric sinks on impact. Yer arm brushes against her naked flesh. It was an accident, but it sort of wasnae, and it’s like a jolt of electricity runs up yer skin. This is the first time ye’ve touched a lassie in donkeys man and the hairs prickle on yer arm. It must affect her tae, but no in the same way as you, ’cause she flinches and stiffens. Her body is tense, rigid, and her gaze remains locked on the passing cars outside the window.
Ye sniff and ye lean intae her a bit, looking out the window too, all casual like. Ye look around the bus, nodding yer head, as if ye’re satisfied with yer surroundings, then ye drum a wee tune on yer thigh, yer left foot going like yon fucking rabbit fae the Bambi film. Ye sniff again and let out a low whistle then ye start tae rummage about in yer bag.
Fucking bingo. The National Geographic, one eh the ones ye chored fae the wee library they had inside. It’s yer favourite one, the one wi the lions. This’ll impress her, ’cause ye know aw about the lions. The lions – aw the animals as a matter eh fact – they’re sort eh your thing eh. They’re what you liked to read about inside. What kept your mind occupied. So ye flick the magazine open on yer knee and ye look up at her, and ye look back down and the magazine. And back up tae her, and ye raise yer eyebrows and gesture down at the pages.
But she’s no biting man. She’s staring out the window, aw intense like. And ye want tae tell her. About the lions like. Ye want to tell her that the darker the lion’s mane, the mare chance he’ll have eh attracting a mate. And that his roar can be heard from five miles away. Ye want to tell her that the female lion does aw the hunting but the big male always eats first. Ye want to say that you disagree wi that philosophy and if it was you that was the big lion you’d let yer woman go first ’cause that’s the kind eh man that you are.
And then she’s standing up.
“Excuse me,” she says. “This is ma stop.”
Ye lift yer bag from the floor and ye twist yer knees to let her by, but there’s no much room and she faces forward and inches past ye. Her arse is right in yer face then and her hair curls all the way down tae the bottom eh her back. It’s long and luscious and blonde. Ye close yer eyes and smell, and it smells so sweet, so clean. What does it smell like? Like mango, or passion fruit? Ye dunno, but it smells so exotic man, like something far off, like in the jungle or something, the rain forest or safari, and when ye open yer eyes she’s gone.
The smell lingers though, ye catch whiffs of it every now and then, teasing yer nostrils, tantalising, invading yer senses. Ye keep yer eyes shut, blocking out the auld snooty cunts on the bus. Blocking out aw the guards fae the jail, yer fellow inmates, yer auld crew, yer ex-missus. Blocking out the polis, the judges, yer teachers. Blocking out yer ma and her boyfriend and yer brer. Immersing yerself in that faraway, unattainable scent. And when ye open them again ye see the sign – Welcome To The Kingdom Of Fife – and ye sigh man, ’cause ye’re home.