Urban zoologists met with the London Transport Authority earlier tonight to discuss the plight of the city’s buses.
In a syndrome termed DCD, that’s ‘Depot Collapse Disorder’, the buses have, for the last few months, been abandoning their regular routes, and dying out.
It was in late March that first reports came of the missing 333s, despatched on their regular timetable north from Streatham but not returning, fading into the dark, never to be seen again.
The phenomenon quickly spread, with unexplained absences reported on the streets of Kensington, and as far north as Harrow, as far west as Southall.
News stations followed up reports of the number 43s, endlessly circling the roundabout at Highbury Corner, their motors howling, their tyres ever curving, winding round like mournful dogs chasing their tails.
Some simply halt at the roadside. Others have breached walls and fences, leaping down cuttings to intersect railway lines, colliding with oncoming trains in splinters of fire, tearful metal and dark smoke.
There have been so many casualties. Today, boarding a bus is an act of bravery.
At night the city locks her doors, and the windows of Harlesden tower blocks fill with eyes, as lost swarms of double-deckers pour down the north circular in a red rush.
Some rust in the suburbs. Some burn out in the crimson graveyard in Brockwell Park.
Some, rabid, hurtle through washing lines in terraced back yards and dive with relief into the canal, and sink. Some twist into a honking rage, mount those in front with a long launch, thrust, crush and rape in screams of violated steel. Some, thankfully, have been tranquilised, their tyres deflated and their axles snapped, as part of the panicked attempts to stop the syndrome spreading to infect the trains, the boats, the cars. Already some reports have come of a florist in Stoke Newington mauled to death by a surge of bicycles, torn to pieces in a horror of spokes and tingly bells.
They are worried, those in charge. We are all worried. The red heartbeat of our streets is eating itself and none of us, now, none of us know where we are going.
Because today the streets are deserted. The Southwark Bridge, City Road, the Elephant and Castle, the back streets of Pimlico. Parliament Square. Wormwood Scrubs. All are as empty as night.
Those of us that stayed flit quickly from door to door, fearing the growl of the rogue 21.Rotorblades thud high in the air, a criss-cross of continued surveillance that reaches us with the weather. “Today, scattered showers, and a system of single-decker 236s gathering momentum towards Hackney.” We watch from indoors or underground. Hiding. Waiting.
And so today we sit in the barred-window cafes, drinking wine the colour of their skins and smoking cigarillos with the confidence of knowing cancer won’t kill us, they will, and wonder, with what is left of ourselves, wonder when so much is lost, and so much is missing, and we look through the glass and recognise nothing, we spread out our maps and wonder how best to make it to Dalston Junction from Paddington Basin.