Tango on the Edgware Road

Thursday night and I’m treating myself to a shawarma at Café Helen on the Edgware Road. The place is bustling, customers coming in for two or three shawarma at a time, the guy on duty slapping the flatbreads out, piling on the meat and rolling them up at a good clip. Outside, there’s the sound of sirens, and a few bad-looking boys running up and down the street. Yeah, I’m thinking, West London’s got edge. You don’t have to go east of the Fleet for that gritty urban vibe.

I eat it waiting for the number six, which takes its sweet time. Just as it rolls into view, I feel a sharp slap on the back of my head. Quick check: I’m not drunk, haven’t walked into anything. What the fuck just happened? I look around. There’s a shabby-looking old bloke standing next to me. Did you see anything, I ask? Did somebody just throw something at me? Yes, he gestures, from the flats, up above. From the flats? Two blokes sitting outside a shisha café seem to concur. I look up at the windows, down at the ground, try to see what hit me, but my bus is here and I get on.

Another man, already sitting on the bus, says to me it was him, he hit you. I look through the door of the bus and the old bloke’s still there, giving me the finger and mouthing obscenities. Safe from the possibility of hitting him in revenge, I give him the finger back and a few fuckyous too. The bus pulls away, I sit down at the front and a friend calls. He’s in a club and I can hardly hear him, but I try to explain what just happened, loudly and with several swearwords.

The bus pulls up at the lights and the driver turns round to me. It’s not personal, he says. Don’t let it affect your mind. He does that all the time. He’s banned from the buses. One time they arrested him up here, he was saying Saddam Hussein was going to blow us all up. They should keep him locked up for saying stuff like that (sure enough, Paddington Green is just around the corner). I’m relieved at least to know that it’s not personal, that getting tangoed on the Edgware Road is almost routine. Why does he do it? the driver asks. Maybe it’s the credit crunch, he says.

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