Setting: Bus stop in Albert Square opposite the town hall, Manchester, England
Time: Present day, summer, early evening
Character: ALICE, a woman in her late 60s, with a weather beaten face
ALICE is clasping a pair of knitting needles and a ball of wool. Beside her is a shopping trolley filled with bags of her possessions.
I nabbed this old bird’s knitting—well, it was poking out her handbag looking right sorry for itself. From a cardy to a shawl and back again—been round the block more times than me, it ‘ad.
(Referring to needles) Last time I’d used a pair of these was to knit our Shaun an Xmas stocking, only for some reason it came out a balaclava, so it ended up on Shaun’s head that winter, which he was gutted about…because it were red, and he was a Man City fan.
Last week Shaun says to me, “Give this sheltered accommodation a chance, Ma.” Who needs sheltered accommodation when I got the runnings of every bus stop in this city? And have you seen that bus station they put up in Shude Hill, it’s got comfy seats and computers, and vending machines churning out anything from chicken soup to cappuccino round the clock.
See these tourists. Snapping away. Clicking away at me like I’m this prize flipping marrow. Give us a quid and I’ll flash you what’s left of me teeth.
(Scolding herself) Well, you have gone and plonked your derriere in front of the Town Hall you prize fool, not your ugly mug they want for their albums, it’s that blimmin’ fancy clock tower behind you. Shift it, you old piss bag. Or whatever that is in Japanese.
Always scurrying to join some mystical magical tour bus queue, these foreign folk. You’d think they didn’t have queues in their country. Driver ain’t leaving without you, you’re his bread, butter, and marmalade. Anyways, who on God’s earth would pay to freeze their arse on the damp seat of a open deck? This ain’t Monte Carlo, it’s Manchester, which is well, Manchester speak for WET.
Usually, when there’s this many folk about, I’m parked up at Alighting Only. But since a job’s come up here (holds up the knitting needles) I’ve had to prise myself away from me comfort zone.
It was this chap’s jumper that first had me, it was draped over the one arm, folded like someone with a black belt in origami had been messing with it. He was stood in front of us—him and his mate—the pair wearing smiles like butlers, like butter wouldn’t melt, not in a month of Sunday opening.
If I’d have blinked I’d have missed the whole shebang! Not every day you see a fella with an extra arm. This chap with the polyester sweater had three arms!! Pissed, you say? Well, you would think that wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong. I don’t touch the stuff. I need every one my six senses to get by on these streets. If you’re missing one, they’ll leave you standing in your birthday suit, they will.
And such manners on these two fellas, I was thinking. Stepping aside to let all the foreign folk on the bus before them.
One of them arms was a fake of course. Cos I soon clocked the real one sliding out of its hidey hole and having a bit of a root round. Inside some gentleman’s pocket or a gaping handbag…then he slips the loot to his mate and the pair of ‘em step back to wait for the next queue of cash cows.
Worst mistake they could have made is not clocking me! What, did they think I wouldn’t have an honest bone in me body? I weren’t going to sit back and watch that pair of no-marks milk the money coming into this city like a prize Jersey! I can’t say I like all these foreigners, but it’s their money that buys the decent bus shelters and free public conveniences in this city.
(Referring to knitting needles) These are the only things I ever nicked and if I ever see that woman again I’ll say to her: these are better off with me love, fighting evil, not dropped stitches.
Cos I lunged at Three-Arms with them, drivin’ em through his fake arm like it were a pincushion.
Well, the sap didn’t know what to do with his sorry self at first. The sidekick was slightly quicker off the mark and brought his heel down on to Three-Arms foot, had him yelping like a spayed mongrel, that did.
Which got the cash cows attention. Which was my cue to take control (referring to needles) of these, TWISTING ‘em and PULLING on ‘em ‘til the prosthetical limb was completely severed from his body, and lying on the pavement. Groans and cries of horror from the cash cows, ’til Sidekick goes to pick the limb up—forgetting his pockets are loaded with loot…
Only thing is….they pegged it before the angry mob had chance to wrestle ‘em to the floor.
A couple of the marks were grateful to have their wallets back and went looking for a hat or a bucket so they could show me their gratitude, only it’s too hot for a hat and buckets are for charity cases. Is that what you take me for, eh?
I ain’t slept in a house for more than twelve years. Cos…I can’t see. When I’m over at our Shaun’s, I have to have all the doors open. I’m not talking ajar either, I’m talking full throttle even when it’s blowing a gale. Was I born in a barn? You could say that, yeah, I watched me house burn down to the ground like it was made of straw. If you put me in a box with walls and a roof now, I’d huff and I’d puff myself into a panic attack. They’d cart me off to A and E, only that’d make it ten times worse, being in one of them little cubicle with curtains…..you may as well lower me into an early grave.
I don’t pay taxes, but I put myself to good use, me. These bus shelters need policing and these tourists, well…can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. (Producing the pickpocket’s fake arm) You could call me…. the long arm of the law. (Laughs to herself)
copyright © 2010 Crystal Stewart. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Crystal Stewart is a Manchester-based playwright whose first two plays, Garden of the Heart and Peacock Boy toured with Boojum Theatre. She helped create Tales of the Unexpected, a multi-disciplinary site-specific project at John Rylands library with Hens Teeth. She is adapted One Night There, a play by Kurdish writer Bhean Ali for Exodus OnStage Festival 2010.