Bus Trip to Lucy
by Rachel Brimble
The bus is running late again. I snatch a look at my watch. Typical. She finally agrees to let me have Lucy for the weekend and now this! I bet she'll start nagging before my feet touch the pavement. Why are you late? Knew I couldn't trust you to be on time. On and on and on.
I rang her early this morning after I'd set everything up. She knew I was on my mobile and that I was already on the bus. She was a bit reluctant to begin with but then she sensed the ferocity of how much I needed to see my little girl.
I unclasp my sweating hand from the rail behind the driver. He gives me a strange look so I stare at the back of his head. People always seem to sense that, don't they? After a couple of seconds, he looks back at me.
"Shouldn't you be watching the road, mate?" I say.
He mutters something inaudible and turns to look back out the murky windscreen. Ha! One nil to me.
I turn to face the rest of the motley crew on the bus. God, what a freak show! There's a couple who must be in their eighties dressed for an Antarctic blizzard and it's July. They stare at me with fear in their eyes like I'm going to mug them and make a run for it from a moving bus. I smile. The woman hangs on to the bony hand of her husband for dear life. I turn my gaze on a young girl of about twenty and give her a wink. Her cheeks turn red and she crosses her arms awkwardly around her ample bosom. Too late, love, already clocked 'em! I let out a laugh and I swear all ten or eleven of my fellow passengers jump simultaneously.
I squeeze my fingers into Billy's shoulder, and he looks up at me with sad-dog eyes. He's a good kid, does as he's told, you know? I can feel a bond growing between us and it feels good. He trusts me, knows I wouldn't hurt him. But his mother? God, she's as jumpy as a housewife on a quadruple prescription of Valium! What does she think I'm going to do to him? I turn back to look out the windscreen and all I can see ahead of us is a sea of cars and vans.
"How long is it going to take to get through this lot, mate?" I tap the driver on the shoulder. He ignores me. "Oi! How long's it going to take? I'm late."
He turns slowly in his seat and I can see his mind ticking over possible answers to give me. His eyes suddenly flit to Billy.
"I'm going as fast as I can." He runs his tongue over dried lips. "There's always a bit of a hold-up at these lights."
I take a deep breath. I've got to stay calm or she'll change her mind about Lucy if I'm all riled up. It's unbelievable that it's come to this. Why didn't she just let me see my baby girl, why involve everyone else?
My head snaps around at the sound of a ruckus at the back of the bus. A woman is lying on her side in the aisle with two guys crouched over her. Now what? My eyes dart from the top of Billy's head to the driver and back to the huddle in the aisle. This is just great. All I need now is for some woman to have a heart attack and be stuck here waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
"What's going on up there?" I strain my neck trying to see over their heads.
"She's fainted," one of the guys calls back. "We'd better call an ambulance."
"She don't need an ambulance if she's fainted, for God's sake. Give her some air, slap her cheek a few times."
"Just do it!"
Why do people have to make such a bloody fuss over nothing? If I didn't have young Billy with me, I'd step in and help but I can't leave him standing on his own, can I? He might hurt himself.
One of the guys gives her a tentative tap on the cheek, and I hear a moan before there's a scuffle when she tries to sit up. She's a little pale, a little shaky but she's fine. She points a finger at me and Billy and begins to shake just a little harder. Her two saviours help her back into her seat and she stays there with panicked eyes staring out at me from under her paper-thin lids. She'll be all right in a couple of hours, no worries.
I turn back to the windscreen. We're moving, but not fast enough. My watch says quarter to three. Damn, half an hour late! The wife had better not try anything funny. She's pushed me and pushed me. She's like a cat tormenting a mouse, she lets me run with Lucy for so long before grabbing my tail and pulling me back again. Well not any more, I'll be running all the way from today.
My attention is drawn back to Billy, I can feel his bony shoulder shaking under my hand. I turn him to look at me. His eyes are filled with tears, he's trembling and a line of mucus runs from his nose to his top lip. He must have been crying for a while and I hadn't even noticed. I drop to my knees in front of him.
"Hey, come on, son," I say, wiping away his tears with my thumb. "It's going to be okay. No more tears."
He lets out a pitiful snivel as he struggles to be brave for his mum and me. It's a cruel life how the kids always get mixed up in the grown-ups' problems. We fight, we argue but we never think about the kids until it's too late. It's her fault Billy's crying now. She'll blame me though.
"Why don't you let him come and sit with me?"
It was Valium Woman.
"No, he's fine. He'll stay right up here by the driver. You like it up here, don't you, Billy?"
He nods. But still she feels the need to keep talking. What is wrong with the female race? Are they born with motorised mouths or something?
"You can still see him if he sits with me. Please, he's crying."
"Look, lady, he stays with me. You're beginning to get right on my nerves, okay? Don't push me."
She puts her hands out in front of her, palms facing me. Surrender.
"Good. Good girl."
I ignore the tear that cuts through her makeup like a crudely drawn line through sand.
My attention is caught by familiar shops passing by outside. We're almost there, another five minutes or so and the wife'll be there with my Lucy. I've got so much planned. I'm going to take her to the park, then for a burger and tonight...I've booked tickets to see Cinderella on ice! Her little eyes will be shining in the semi-darkness, her hand clasped in mine with excitement. My little girl back with her daddy.
I move closer to the door and Billy lets out a gasp of pain. I'd forgotten he was there for a second. I look down and he's got a slight scratch on his neck. Nothing to worry about, he'll be fine. I lean towards the windscreen, desperate for the first glimpse of her. There she is! There she is!
My breath catches in my throat at the sight of her. She's beautifully dressed in a pale blue T-shirt and matching shorts. Her feet tucked into white socks and sandals. For all her mother's faults, she does a good job looking after her. She always looks so lovely to me, even from a distance. The bus hisses to a stop and the doors fold back. I lock eyes with her mother. She stares back, shooting lasers of venom and bitterness. Nothing can upset me now, I'm going to be with Lucy.
I suddenly remember my fellow passengers and how good they've been in helping me to reunite with my daughter. I shove Billy towards Valium Woman and she pulls him tightly to her chest.
"I never would've hurt him, ma'am. I'm a father myself," I say, laughing at the relief on her face. I wonder if she'll ever let the kid go again.
"Cheerio, folks. Thanks for your time."
I give them all a cheery wave and jump from the bus. I hold my arms out wide, ready for my little girl, the knife glints in the sunlight. Lucy hesitates and looks up at her mother who quickly turns her away from me.
Everything happens so quickly all I feel is my knees hitting the concrete pavement followed by the side of my face. My arms are pulled roughly behind me and the snap of the handcuffs sounds loud in my ears. I watch my Lucy walk away with her mother and then I hear myself scream.
©2004 Rachel Brimble
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