In the space of a few months she had begun to feel as if she knew these people but yet she still couldn’t help wondering about their lives. Here they were doing exactly the same as her, every single morning. But where did they all go? What did their day look like? Did they notice her quietly observing them as they stepped on board?
She sat on the same side every morning she got on the bus. Not because she had to. It was just easier to see when her stop came up. Somehow everyone else ended up doing the same thing. It was as if they had made seat reservations online like booking a movie ticket. It was predictable and comforting in an odd sort of way. She knew what was coming next; plus it helped to pass the time as she travelled alone with just the thoughts in her head for company. Sometimes the young girl, who she had recognised from her last job, would sit beside her; but that was mostly when she wanted to gossip about the people they had left behind or share a bit of news like when she failed her driving test. It wasn’t easy being chatty that early in the morning. She much preferred to sit in quiet contemplation knowing that this might be the only time during her day that she could collect her thoughts. She pretended to be looking at a message on her phone so she didn’t have to make eye contact or strike up an awkward conversation until the bus started moving again, that way the seat beside her would still be empty.
The school boys were always laughing together as the bus rounded the corner while the others just stared down at their phones and shuffled forward waiting for their turn to board. They weren’t wearing their blazers today; their uniforms looking as if they had desperately tried to add a bit of uniqueness by leaving their shirts untucked and their ties too short. The taller one took out a small aerosol from his knapsack and bathed himself in a cloud of spray, laughing as he gave the boy in front of him a quick, short burst of it on the back of his trousers. The aroma followed him as he sat down in the empty seat behind her like the dust on Charlie Brown’s friend. She smiled wondering if that was for the benefit of a girl he might like and remembered what it felt like to be that age. She had come to realise why the boys chose that particular stop to get on as the next one along, a mob of teenage hormones stood in a cluster, jostling for space to be the next one aboard.
The boy in the purple shirt, that had the unfortunate dandruff flakes adorning the shoulders, plonked himself onto the seat in front of her, placing his bag on the vacant one next to him, as if it too had paid for a ticket. It annoyed her. He unzipped it every morning, taking out his e-reader and opening up his novel. She had a feeling it was a crime drama. When the bus stopped at the next few stops to let passengers on, his bag stayed put. His head never looked up from his reader so he didn’t catch the glances of the people as they walked passed to a different seat. She wanted to ask him if his Mother would be proud of his manners.
The exchange students started looking more confident as they handed the driver their tickets to be punched and then heading for the seats upstairs. There were different ones each day as they took it in turns learning from their middle aged host who never failed to explain to the driver when it was their first time on a bus and that he wanted to be sure they knew where to get on and off. She would have loved to know what they were talking about as they spoke in their native tongue. Maybe like her, they too were making observations.
“Ruby no!” She smiled hearing this as Ruby attempted to go up the stairs every morning. She willed her to keep going wondering why her ridiculously young Mum couldn’t indulge her just for once. She would stand near the front making Ruby hold on as the bus rumbled along and she engrossed herself with scrolling through her phone with not a hint of a smile on her face. The young girl stood beside her playing games on her phone, constantly giving her Mum a play by play description of what was happening. Her Mum remained stony faced and unresponsive. She had a feeling Ruby was rather a handful and that Mum had already had enough by the time they caught the bus in the morning. She longed to offer to take Ruby upstairs and let her chat endlessly on her short journey to school giving the child her undivided attention. She hoped that it wasn’t always like that for Ruby.
The bus came to a slow crawl as it navigated the carnage of road works that were nowhere near looking like a new roundabout; the yellow machinery moving the dirt from one spot and depositing it in another. It was due to be completed closer to the end of the year and supposed to be an improvement on the accident prone intersection. She really hoped it would be. Too many people had lost their lives needlessly before this decision had been made. Why does it take for that to happen? She would never forget the long detoured bus ride home that night after the last fatal accident. It took hours before she arrived home. But sadly she at least got to go home.
The newspaper was grabbed from the display box as the rather frumpy lady sat down to read it as she did every morning and the lady with the loud flowery coat stood in the aisle as by this time the bus had standing room only. But it wouldn’t be for long.
Even if she had closed her eyes for a brief moment she always knew where she was. The early morning sunlight was shaded by the thicker growth of trees that grew; their limbs reaching across the road, creating a tunnel of green. She wondered how long it took for the young girl to cross that busy road once she stepped off the bus. At that time of the morning the traffic was constant in both directions. The flowery coat sat down with a lump and a sigh.
Once the bus was past the large roundabout the journey seemed to go quicker. She always felt as if that roundabout was the marker for the end of the country and where city life began. She actually had no idea where the real boundary was. It was usually at this point in her journey that her mind had completely wandered; probably because no further passengers got on and she was left to stare vacantly out of the window. It would be the sound of the bell bringing her back into reality followed by the jolt of the bus coming to a stop that would make her begin to pay attention for fear of missing her stop. She had visions of herself falling asleep and sailing past.
“THANKYOU!” Ruby yelled as she followed her sour faced Mum off the bus. She had made a crude looking ‘crutch’ out of long twigs and tape and pretended to limp as she walked. There was something about that child that just made her smile each morning. She hoped her teachers smiled at her too.
As she rang the bell for the next stop, disturbing the person seated beside her, she wondered if any of the eyes that followed her off the bus were curious about her too. She would kind of miss them once her car was fixed. She hoped the school boy would be liked back. She hoped the bad mannered boy would change his behaviour as well as buy some shampoo to fix his unfortunate problem but mostly she hoped Ruby would get to sit upstairs.