Passenger, Anonymous


Kate Measom



As the coach approaches the terminal my fellow passengers come to life, checking their bags for tickets, boiled sweets, cameras and such like, chattering excitedly while they shuffle towards the boarding bay. I tag along behind, unsteady legs trembling as I force them to carry me forwards. I have no one to chat to. I’m here alone, and this day trip is a big deal for me. The tour company calls it “Delights of the Yorkshire Dales”. I call it the first day of the rest of my life.

            The driver alights and starts checking tickets. My own ticket is clutched tight in my sweaty hand the way a child clutches a comforter. I tell myself that I can still turn back, that it’s not too late, but I’ve made it this far. I can’t go back now.

            Breathe. That’s the key. Just breathe through the nerves.

            The driver smiles at me and holds out a hand. He might as well be Charon come to ferry me to hell.

            “Ticket please.” He grins.

            I manage a smile and thrust my ticket into his outstretched hand. He’s holding a clipboard with a list of passengers. There’s only one name left. It’s mine, my new name. It still strikes me as odd when I see it. He puts a thick black line through it then gestures for me to board.

             I keep my eyes lowered as I hurry along the gangway, and sink into the first empty seat I can find. The bus seems only half full. That’s good. I’m tempted to look around, but I don’t. It’s been a while since my face was in all the papers, but people have long memories where murder is concerned. No need to push my luck when I’ve made it this far, and besides, I’m not here to socialise. I’m here to escape.

            The driver is talking to us now, relaying the little details of our trip. I listen politely, head lifted, but never quite catching his eye. I wish he’d hurry up, stop talking and start driving before I lose my nerve completely.

            At last he takes his seat and the bus begins to back out of the bay. I pull a bottle of water from my bag and take small sips, quenching the fire in my chest. My palms are sweaty so I wipe them on my jeans and try to relax. I’m here now. I made it. Soon I’ll be out of this goddamned city, away from the stares and the pointed fingers, away from the neighbours who smash my windows and post excrement through my door. On this bus I’m just a passenger, anonymous. I haven’t been that in a long, long time.

            As the concrete and steel of the city flashes by I’m both exhilarated and terrified. The tension in my body slips just a little, like a blanket gently tugged from over the head of a frightened child. My fellow passengers are settling down for the journey. Newspapers are unfolded. Books are pulled from bags. Sweets are passed around. No one looks my way. I settle into my own seat and endeavour to enjoy the journey.


# # #


The village of Howarth is as picturesque as the brochure promised. The weather is overcast but there’s a mugginess in the air that negates the need for coats or jumpers, and I wander the cobbled streets happily, blissfully unnoticed. The gift shops are abundant with local mementoes. I’ve already bought an ornament, a hand-painted cottage, and a hematite bracelet and necklace set. The obligatory tea towel is next on my list, then perhaps tea and a cake in a quaint café I spied from the coach as we drove in.

Occasionally I pass other passengers. They smile at me and ask if I’m having a nice time. An elderly couple invite me to join them for a pub lunch but I politely decline. I’m doing well so far but I remain wary. No need to spoil things when I’m having such a lovely day.

            The café is busy when I arrive and I’m dismayed to find every table occupied. There is one seat free but there’s a man at the table, eating alone. He looks vaguely familiar. I think he’s from our coach but I can’t be sure. He looks a little like someone I used to know.

            While I’m studying him he looks up and gestures for me to join him. A bolt of panic pierces my heart and I freeze to the spot. He smiles at me and nudges the spare seat from under the table with his foot. It’s a familiar smile, so much like the one I fell in love with another lifetime ago. It forces my legs to carry me forwards and I’m suddenly sitting down beside him.

            “Hi.” He grins. “I’m Neil.”

            “Kay,” I manage, shaking his outstretched hand.

            “Enjoying your day?” he asks.

            I nod. “Oh yes. It’s a beautiful village. Are you on our coach?”

            He smiles. “Yep. Another lone traveller. Daunting, isn’t it?”

            I smile back, suddenly at ease. It’s strange, but he really does look so much like the man who used to be my husband. A little greyer around the temples, a few more lines around the eyes, but similar nonetheless. An attractive upgrade, maybe. I can’t help but glance down at his ring finger. Vacant, but with a faint indent that suggests he’s only recently become single.

            The conversation continues pleasantly until he asks where I live. The truth is out of my mouth before I have time to remember the lie.

            Neil sits back, and I can see that he’s made the connection. “Isn’t that where those murders took place?”

            It’s too late now. I nod casually and hope that’s the end of it, but Neil is persistent. “What was it they called him? I don’t remember now, but you must know, being in the middle of it all.”

If only he knew. My palms are sweating again and my pulse has a strange new rhythm that pounds in my ears like artillery fire.

            “The Domino Killer,” I reply reluctantly.

“That’s the one,” Neil says, clicking his fingers. “Left a domino with each of the bodies. Four young women, I think.”

I nod, and feel beads of sweat break out on my forehead.

            “It must have been a shock to find there was a serial killer in your village?”

            “Yes,” I say. “It did cause quite a stir.”

            “Didn’t they arrest his wife, too?”

            My heart skips. “Yes,” I reply. “She was a suspect for a while but they had to let her go. No evidence to place her at any of the murder scenes, unlike him.”

             “They found a hair or something, didn’t they?”

            “That’s right, although he still protests his innocence. Says someone set him up. At least...that’s what the papers say.”

             Neil empties his cup then suppresses a burp and flashes me a cheeky grin of apology. I hear myself laugh but the sound seems to come from so far away.

“Strange, those dominoes, don’t you think?” he asks. “I mean I’ve heard of serial killers taking mementoes from their victims, but leaving things behind? That’s just arrogant. And why dominoes?”

            I shrug and stare down into my cup. “Who knows?”

But that’s just the thing – I do know.

            A sudden wave of anger bursts violently through the nerves and crests at the painful memory. I clench my fists in my lap and will it away but the thoughts won’t go. I see him in my head, that dazzling smile, his innocent eyes hiding a darker truth. My husband, captain of the local domino team. All those Thursday nights I spent alone with only a glass of wine and a book for company, when in truth the only game he was playing was in dead women’s beds.

            “Can I get you another drink?” Neil asks suddenly, checking his watch. “We don’t leave for another half an hour.”

             I shake myself from my reverie and smile. “I’d like that,” I say, “but as long as you allow me to get these. It’s been a long time since I bought a man a drink, even if it is just tea.”

            He doesn’t argue as I reach into my bag for my purse. I find it nestled at the very bottom, beneath crumpled tissues and myriad gift bags that I’ve collected throughout the day. There’s another bag in here that I haven’t touched for a while. I keep it with me always. It’s old and creased now, with a blood stain on one of the handles. Inside is a comb that belonged to my ex-husband, and a wooden box of dominoes, but four of them are missing.


©2010 Kate Measom

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