It was when they resurfaced Chester Road that they took away the bus shelter. It had been vandalised too many times,
the glass smashed, the red paint daubed with black-inked obscenities and there
wasn’t enough money, the council said, to keep refurbishing it. So, in its
place, a pole appeared with a timetable attached. This caused outrage amongst
the local pensioners, many of whom, myself included, relied on the shelter for
their winter trips to town. I added my name to the petition for its return.
Yet it wasn’t my shopping at the forefront of my mind. I had another reason
for the twist in my heart every time I rounded the corner and noted that it had
gone. It was under that shelter that I first spoke to you.
I had been waiting for
the number 27 to take me into town to get a birthday present for Mam. A trip
to town was a bit of an adventure then, a special occasion that required a good
frock and my Christmas shoes, pinching at my toes. The lack of an umbrella on
an unexpectedly wet day had meant I had run all the way from the house,
arriving at the bus stop flushed and out of breath with my fringe stuck to my
forehead. How silly I must have looked, like a little girl.
You were there and, as
I tried to catch my breath, you smiled at me, a lazy smile that reached your
eyes. I looked at the ground, trying to straighten my damp hair. I remembered
you. You had come to our house once, about a year before, to help Dad mend the
roof. It had been raining then too and my bedroom ceiling had leaked. You
often come into my mind now when it rains.
You didn’t speak to me
at the house, had hardly noticed me at all it seemed, but, at the bus-stop, you
did and I blushed. You seemed not to notice that I could hardly speak but my
shyness crippled me then. After all, I was only fifteen and you were married.
The bus seemed to take
an age. You remarked on the weather and asked after the roof and asked me did
I know that the war had ended. I remembered Dad saying you hadn’t fought in
the war because you were some kind of objector.
The bus came and I got
on, praying you would not feel obliged to sit next to me. You answered my
prayer, not for the last time, and let me go in front of you, smiling your
goodbye as you walked to the back of the bus while I sat up front.
The next time I saw
you, I was dry and you were with your wife. As I left the bakers, a fresh
bloomer for Mam clutched in my hands, you were coming in and we almost
collided. A smile of recognition touched your lips as your wife, ignoring me,
approached the counter. At the bus-stop I had kept a distance of six feet or
so between us. At the house I hadn’t even been that near. Now I could smell
you. I could see the blue of your eyes, the slight stubble on your top lip,
the sprinkling of grey that littered your sideburns. When you winked at me it
made my tummy hurt. I looked away. I hurried out, my head ducked.
When I saw you again, I
felt like your best friend. The day was warm, the heat sticking my blouse to
my skin and, walking the longest route to the shop, I passed you, digging your
garden, your shirtsleeves rolled to your elbows and sweat patches darkening
You stopped digging,
picked up a can of beer from the path and, after sipping from it, offered it to
me. My reply, a deep-rooted blush and a dumb shake of the head, once again
seemed to go unnoticed by you. Dad would’ve belted me if I’d drunk beer. Not
to mention what he would’ve done to you for offering it.
It was about a year
later that your wife died. I’d known she was expecting because I had seen her
about town with a swollen belly. There were ‘complications’, Mam said, and the
baby was lost too. Before it happened Mam had knitted a matinee jacket and
matching bootees, the same pattern she used for everybody. I hid one of the
bootees in the shed. Mam found it and blamed the dog.
Half the village turned
out for the funeral. Your wife had been young and pretty and worked for the
WVS. She had never had so much as a smile for me. I sat at the back of the
church between Mam in her funeral frock and Dad in his Sunday suit and tried to
catch your eye. I wanted you to know that I was there, supporting you. You
didn’t look at me.
It was six months after
that that you made me pregnant. I had started to bunk off school because you
were lonely, you said, and needed company. You showed me the best way to
comfort you. My body began to change and I knew it wasn’t right. One night I
sat at the top of the stairs and listened to Mam cry and Dad shout. I went to
my room but Dad threw open the door and punched me full in the belly. That was
when I started to bleed, more blood than I’d ever seen. Mam cleaned me up and
put me to bed. I thought it would have been a boy and, in my head, I called
I never knew if Dad
worked out it was you or if you just left the village anyway. All I knew was
that you didn’t say goodbye. I cried a lot at first. Mam thought I was crying
over the baby and told me I would get over it, that I should pull myself
together, people had been through worse. She didn’t look at me as she spoke.
At nineteen I got
married. It was a quick courtship and Mam and Dad liked Jimmy well enough. He
was from the other side of the village, a hard worker who had been at the
colliery since he left school at fourteen. There were no children but we
didn’t mourn what we didn’t have.
Jimmy’s lungs gave up
when he was forty-five as did those of many others who had worked down the pit
most of their lives. His pension was good, which meant a quiet life for me
without financial hardship.
When you came back to
the village, I heard you had come back to die. You moved into a house not far
from mine and were infrequently visited by a daughter from your second marriage
whose mother’s whereabouts I did not know and did not ask about. You were pale
and thin and not as handsome as I remembered. Your face had shrivelled
Again I began to keep
you company. The occasional visit at first, with the odd bag of groceries, a
newspaper which I would read aloud. Then, as your health worsened, I came to you
daily, feeding you, dressing you, the mother I never was. Eventually, when you
could stand it no more, I put a pillow over your face and helped you die.
Your funeral was
quiet. Your daughter, me, a handful of villagers who knew you from old. I
wore my funeral frock and Christmas shoes and, now, the only time I see you is
if I catch the number 27 to the crem. I hardly use the bus any more. With the
shelter gone, the rain is almost too hard to bear.
©2011 Jacqueline Grima
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