The bus ride back is about an hour long, and at the second stop this guy got on. He was pretty pissed - you could smell it - carrying a large (3litre? same height as a 2litre but fatter) bottle of cider, with a dog and some baccy. Came to the back of the bus and sat next to me.
After a couple of minutes, he started talking to me, as drunk people tend to do (well, not to me, but talking, anyway). He asked me if I smoked cannabis - presumably because of the shirt I was wearing, which is covered in cannabis leaves - and when I said no, he told me that I should. I was kinda nervous and tried to just listen to my music at first, answering questions when asked, nodding and saying 'yeah' and so on to try not to engage him. After a while I gave up listening to my music and just listened to this guy instead. Because he was fascinating.
Firstly, he told me (well, told the whole bus, really) that he'd watched his brother get shot down near Chechnya. They were in apache helicopters - American ones - and he'd watched as his brother waved to him, and then an RPG round had gone right up through the belly of the chopper and it went down in flames. He'd cried his brother's name - John - and he spoke about how he couldn't process what had happened ("I was just... 'what happened?'... I knew what had happened, here, right, but I was just like... 'what happened?' I just... couldn't understand it...") He later mentioned that his brother had been in the SAS, and he himself was an ex-Red Beret.
He'd quit the army after his brother died, and told us at great length how "like in that movie... you know... 'Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn'... that's what I feel." Singing songs like 'It's a long way to Tipperary.' "Scarred for life," he said. "Watching my brother go up in flames. I saw him crying. Scarred for life." There wasn't much I could say except "That's fucking harsh, man."
Things got a little more embarassing when he decided that one of the passengers slightly up the bus looked arabic. For about ten minutes he loudly abused the guy, starting out by saying he reminded him of Elvis Presley, and going on to say things like "revenge is a dish best served cold" and that he'd kill the guy in the night and stuff. Poor guy couldn't take it after that and got off at the next stop.
He also did his part to educate today's youth. "Did you ever watch 'Only Fools and Horses?'" he asked a guy, about my age, sat across the aisle from me. "He who dares, wins. It's what Del Boy says to Rodney all the time, right? He who dares wins. It means that if you dare... to fight... then you'll win." Sadly, he proved himself wrong by going on to dare to ask the guy for his hat, and failing to win it.
There was a chap a few seats forward that I'd seen before, again about my age, talking to a girl I frequently saw him talking to. It turns out he and my erstwhile companion knew each other, as the ex-Red Beret noticed him after a while and asked how he was doing. "Excuse me.. can I ask you a personal question?" bellowed my neighbour. "I've noticed that recently... you've been really camp. Are you gay?" "Yes," said the guy in front (which is cool, I'd be wondering that myself). My neighbour said he had "no problems with gaylords," and "if anyone on this bus has a problem with him being gay, I'll personally execute them." Good for him, I grinned. Drunk, stoned, racist and abusive, but violently anti-homophobia.
As the bus pulled into Bicester I asked him if this was his stop - it was - and he asked if I could help him to the door, make sure he had all his stuff and so on, so I did.
Only a few of us were left on the bus after that, including the gay guy and his friend (and another friend of their who'd got on at Bicester). "Was that fun?" he asked me. "Oh, that was just excellent," I replied. They were talking about him, and I mentioned that he'd said he was pissed because it was the anniversary of his brother's death yesterday. "Oh, no," the guy explained, "he's always pissed. Used to hang out with some of the biggest heroin addicts in Oxford. He's always either pissed, stoned, or on crack. Or all of them."
I considered that, and if it's true it doesn't make his story impossible (he could have been a Red Beret before being sent off the rails by his brother's death). But either way, I feel my life has been enriched - either I've met a man with real horror in his past, or I've met a master bullshit artist. Both would have been worthwhile experiences.