Saturday afternoon, we waited for the 78 in the gloom of the bus station. It had been voted worst bus station in Europe not long before. I was with Elliott and his dad, a little man from Doncaster who took us to see Bristol City most weekends. We’d just watched a local derby: City 3, Rovers 3. City had three goals disallowed. I was wearing my new team hat, a red and white tam o’shanter of risible quality; the inside lining was little better than paper but I was proud of it.
There was a sudden commotion by the entrance and a group of young men entered, chanting and clapping.
Heads turned and conversations died, unease crystallising like ice in the air. One of the men—he was in a bright red jumper that struck me as a strange choice for a Rovers fan—spotted me and Elliott in our hats and scarfs. He shouted to the leader, a rangy youth with a stringy moustache and denim jacket. The man turned, laughed, and began to make his way over. My breathing stopped for a moment and I considered taking my hat off, hoping that Elliott’s dad would protect me, but I knew from the look on his face that I was on my own. The man loomed over me. He smelled of alcohol and cheap aftershave. His friend in the red jumper was next to him; laughing, he reached for my hat, neither bothering to meet my eye. I ducked but he grabbed it.
“Hey,” I called, voice reedy in the sudden quiet. I followed them to a bin where he took a Bic from his pocket and tried to set it alight. His friends gathered ‘round laughing. “Give me my hat back.”
There were murmurs of disapproval from the queue but no one moved to help.