In the Bus Queue

She sat down in the corner of the bus shelter.  The rain pinged off the roof and formed a curtain in front of her and to the side.  Passing cars swished and rumbled through the night, their headlights streaking in front; she didn’t step forward to see their departure, but remained perched on the thin, sloped bench.  Gradually, the bus-stop filled up with familiar faces, workers on their way home, teenagers on their way out, mostly people she’d seen every day for months, but never once spoken to.

She wondered what it would be like to chat.  Just something as simple as “Rough weather tonight!” could lead to so much more: exchanging names, detailing destinations, sitting together on the bus.  Probably not a good idea.  She smiled to herself, imagining the weird scenario of unsolicited contact – of conversation.  Two women had stood in front of her and were talking about Christmas; they were discussing their preparations or, to be more accurate, lack of preparations.

“It’s not even November yet.” Reminded one.

“It will be tomorrow!” Warned the other.

The bus seemed to be taking forever to come – probably because of the weather.  It wasn’t very reliable at the best of times; even though it was supposed to come every 15 minutes, they were sometimes there for as long as 40 or 45 minutes on a bad day.  Some people were starting to grumble and even more were shivering, since most of them had been soaked even before they’d made it into the shelter and the ones at the edges were still getting rained on, relentlessly.  In spite of this, nobody had sat on the bench apart from her.

A bus appeared in the distance, its bright window-eyes visible long before the rest of it.  The would-be passengers thronged forward, creating a squash along the pavement edge, passes and pounds in hands, scarves pulled tightly to block the torrent.  The bus swished past, depositing a dirty wave on the hopefuls at the very front.  An almost synchronised groan of annoyance rose and fell.  A Doppler of disappointment.

“Typical!”

“There were loads of empty seats!”

“I’m sending them the cleaning bill!”

“You’re lucky you were at the back!  Didn’t you want that bus?”

She looked up, shocked!

“Sorry?”

“Wasn’t that your bus?”

The woman had her head tilted as she asked the question.

“It’s just I noticed you didn’t move when it was coming and everybody else pushed forward.”

“I, I just … I was waiting until there was space.

“You’ll never get on that way.”  She smiled.  “People take advantage!”

“I don’t like standing at the front while the bus is moving.  It seems dangerous.”

“That’s true; I’ve heard of accidents happening because of people pushing to get on.  Not very nice.”

The woman sat down next to her.

“It’s very cold for October, isn’t it?  Feels more like January!  You don’t look like you’re dressed for this weather at all.  Aren’t you cold?”

“Not really.  I don’t feel it.”

“You’re lucky.  I’ve got four layers on and I’m still chilled right through.  Can’t wait to get in and soak in a hot bath.  If this damn bus ever comes, that is!”

The woman turned to look along the road.  There was no sign of a bus and the stream of headlights was beginning to dwindle as the rush-hour travellers would probably be home by now, leaving just the few unlucky stranded, like those in the sodden huddle at the bus-stop.

She was feeling a sense of unease.  Something she didn’t even realise was possible.  This was completely unprecedented.  In fact, it was so unexpected that she’d been convinced for several seconds that the woman hadn’t been talking to her, but she obviously had; it had been a proper conversation, making sense and everything.  She looked at the women from under her fringe.  She just looked normal, but she couldn’t be … maybe she was a ghost too.  No.  She’d said she was cold and in all the months she’d been dead, she’d never once felt any kind of cold or heat.  In fact, until she’d been shocked by the woman being able to see her, the only thing she’d really felt was the compulsion to come to the bus-stop and get onto the bus.  It even had to be the right one … the last one during rush-hour: the one that had killed her.

She realised that the bus had come, as she was inspecting the woman.  The passengers were filtering onto the bus in ones and twos and as the woman climbed aboard, she turned and asked her “Are you coming?”

She shook her head.  She didn’t want to be on a bus with somebody who could see her.

“Okay then” shrugged the woman “Happy Halloween”.

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