I always sit at the back of the bus. You can see people better from here and you’re less likely to have someone sit next to you.
All of the usual suspects are here today, so wrapped up in themselves, so selfish. It just shows what has become of the world, this little microcosm of all that has gone wrong.
Anyway, that’s just one example. If I had a choice I wouldn’t travel on this bus ever again. It’s too depressing. But I have no alternative so I just sit and observe and despair.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve made this same journey. It feels like an eternity. I thought having Ruth with me would help, after what had happened, but if I’m honest she’s getting on my nerves a bit now. She always chatters on, can’t just sit quietly. I would prefer to be left on my own, to get on with what I have to do in peace. She won’t have it, though.
A mother is getting on with her children now. There are three of them, all noisy, all rather dirty. Ruth gives the smallest one a little wave and she waves back shyly. The mother is trying to hustle them into a pair of seats, but the eldest boy doesn’t want to go and he starts whining. The noise is setting my teeth on edge. I mutter to Ruth that people who can’t look after their children properly shouldn’t have them at all and she says that the mother is probably doing her best.
I should have known I’d get no support there. You’d think I’d have learned to keep my mouth shut. Ruth says it’s best for me to say how I’m feeling but she never agrees with me, so I don’t see the point of her being here. The sooner I’m finished with all this the better.
“Isn’t there anyone here you can say something nice about?” Ruth prompts me.
I look around. Dave the tramp, along with his customary robust smell; a few kids from the local school, who should be there now, throwing stuff at Dave; a middle-aged man in a shabby suit, tutting at the children; the woman and her kids. I’ve seen them all on the bus before, always the same. The flotsam and jetsam of life.
“No,” I tell her and stare out of the window, then turn back immediately and start to shake.
We’re right at the place where it happened. I could see the lamppost and the bus shelter quite clearly even though the windows are dirty. I never look out of the window at this part, never. Ruth knows that. She usually distracts me. But not today. Today she almost made me look by making me cross with her.
“Are you all right?” she asks.
“No,” I say again.
“It’s time you faced it, Maggie.”
“I can’t,” I say.
“You have to,” Ruth says, placing a hand on my arm. “You need to move on.”
It’s too hard, I want to say. It will always be too hard. But I’ve tried that before and Ruth never lets me get away with it.
“One day,” she always says. “There’s still time.”
But time’s the one thing I don’t really have any more.
It’s only a few more stops to the terminus. Then we’ll have to get off and do the whole thing again tomorrow. A young woman gets on the bus and sits near Dave. She has something familiar about her, though I don’t really recognise her. She starts chatting to Dave and he seems to respond. The boys stop throwing things at him now he’s not on his own and the other man has returned to the calm of his newspaper. The mother and her children are singing a nursery rhyme quietly together and playing pat-a-cake.
The young woman turns her head and looks straight at me. I see her eyes and I know that I have seen them before. Ruth reaches for my hand.
“Do you know who that is, Maggie?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say. “No. It can’t be.”
“It is,” she replies.
I am shaking again. The woman is at least twenty. The last time I saw her she was five years old.
I can see her now, standing at the bus stop, holding tightly on to her mother’s hand. It was the first day of a new school term, and her uniform was so fresh and smart it must have been brand new. The bus was rowdier than normal, all the kids wanting it still to be the holidays, and I hadn’t been able to bear it. Every day there was some problem or other, a fight or too much shouting or people making a mess that I’d have to clear up later. I’d had enough.
“For goodness sake, will you just keep it down?” I had shouted, turning my head away from the road.
Then I’d heard a woman scream and turned back in time to see us veering towards the bus stop, the sight of the little girl’s eyes making a lasting imprint on my brain. I jerked the wheel and hit the lamppost instead and the impact sent the bus over. Fortunately none of the passengers was badly hurt. But me – I didn’t make it. And I’m still so angry about that.
Fifteen years! It’s such a long time. Have I really been making this journey every day since?
Ruth can see my confusion and turns my face towards hers.
“Is there anyone here you can say something nice about, Maggie?” she says.
I look around at the perfectly ordinary passengers going about their day. Since the woman got on, it feels like a different bus. Still, by tomorrow they’ll probably...
Ruth holds up a hand as though she can read my thoughts.
“You have to let it go, Maggie. You can’t take your anger with you, it isn’t allowed. It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. You have to stop blaming everyone unless you want to make this journey every day until the end of time.”
She is looking at me with a determination I’ve not seen in her before. I look over to the young woman who could have died, but didn’t, and to the busload of passengers who I have to absolve before I can move on. The small girl lifts her hand and this time waves at me instead of Ruth. It’s true that children see things differently. I wave back and it all just evaporates, all the anger and the impatience and the lack of understanding. Just like that.
“She’s a lovely young woman,” I say. “I’m glad she didn’t die.”
And as soon as I speak the words I am no longer on the bus and Ruth and I are flying as fast as light to an unknown destination from where my new journey can begin.
©2011 Sherri Turner
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