I got on the bus into Huddersfield yesterday and the only seat available was one of those most un-English matched pairs that faces each other at the back of the bus. These are the seats in which you are forced to stare into the face of your fellow traveler rather than watch the grey rain fall on mucky, monochrome streets. But it wasn't the face of the chap sat opposite me which monopolised my attention, it was his hands.
In his forties, rough, tough and no doubt dangerous to know he sat with his fists clenched in front of him, chewing some kind of gum and staring into the middle distance as though he was on the look out for something to thump. Across the top of his fingers was clearly tattooed the word "HATE", but just above that, between his knuckles, was tattooed another word, but I couldn't quite make out what. I became obsessed with the cause of interpreting the object of his hatred and the more I stared the more I began to fear he would notice and not only take offence but also take the top layer of skin off the bridge of my nose. I carefully shifted position in my seat trying to get a better angle of view, to little or no avail : it was like interpreting the Rosetta Stone of body art. Was that another "A" and could that be an "R", or maybe a "B". If the annoying fellow would only unclench his fist it would be easier to read the message he obviously wanted to transmit to the world. For the entire bus journey I watched, studied, and attempted to interpret. By the time we got into Huddersfield I was fairly sure that his obvious loathing was directed at either Arabs or Aran sweaters, but I still wanted some kind of confirmation. Even though he was getting off the bus a stop before the stop I wanted, I followed him, hoping for closure. But, alas, the offending hand had retreated inside his coat - checking that his knuckle-dusters were still in his pocket and his cosh was still at hand, no doubt - and all I could catch sight of was his other hand. And on this hand was tattooed the word "LOVE". But just above it, between the knuckles, was tattooed another word, I couldn't quite interpret. What could the antithesis of his loathing be? What could this man of pronounced hatred love? Berbers perhaps? Or possibly Fair Isle sweaters? I had to know. Should I turn my back on my intended destination, the railway station, and follow this man of simplistic emotions, or should I try to live with the fact that I would never know.
I chose life.