Every bus pass came with ten rides, and she remembered every one of them. She hardly ever caught buses, finding them too claustrophobic, and so each time she did it stuck in her memory, as sticky and shiny as a piece of glitter that would not go away.
She much preferred walking. She could get almost anywhere she wanted this way, and it was a lot cheaper. But one day she had needed to catch a bus to the other side of town, too far away to travel by foot. She had missed her bus at first, and had to wait for another hour at the bus stop for the next one to arrive. It was blisteringly hot summer weather, and she had cursed the idea of public transport as her skin darkened and her nose burnt. When the bus finally did pull up it was smelly and sweaty, and the open windows did little but push hot air through her damp hair. She had arrived at the shopping centre when it was close to closing anyway, four o'clock and ticking onwards. She had decided to walk home, and by the time she was turning the key in the lock for her dingy apartment it was dark outside and she had blisters on her feet. She had bathed them in antiseptic, and revelled at the pain.
The second bus ride was for a fancy dress party, and she wore a flowing skirt and a sparkly top and nothing on her feet. She carried a wooden flute in her hand, and had body shimmer smeared across her collarbones. She had felt absolutely divine. When she got on the bus, however, the looks people gave her were strange. The bus driver demanded to see ID, and people had placed their bags next to them on the seat, barring her from their life. It was an unfriendly atmosphere, and it seemed like it was all directed at her. When it came to her stop, she almost ran off the bus, flinging a thankyou at the driver once she was safely on the curb and breathing the fresh air.
The third line on the ticket, electronic dates and times printed in their blue ink, was from when she had to go out at night and couldn't get a lift with her friends. She was seeing a movie, and had to wait at the bus stop, scared that at any second some unfamiliar and imposing figure would loom out of the shadows and demand all her money. She took short breaths, and had wrapped her arms around herself. For the first time ever she was glad to see the bus arrive. She had taken a seat right at the front, just behind a fat, balding man. Sweat rings lined on the armpits of his shirt, and he smelt musky. She had not been afraid until he turned around, leering, and called her 'love.' The rest of the ride he had let his eyes wander where he wanted, and she had sat still, almost too scared too move. She had walked slowly off the bus, but run once away from the stifling atmosphere. She couldn't understand why she had been so scared waiting at the bus stop, when the bus itself was a much scarier prospect.
Needless to say, when it came to bus ride number four, she was not expecting much. She had been running late for work and, not wanting to incur her manager's anger, she had sadly waited while drizzle rained down on her. When she had stepped onto the bus, and payed her fee, and shook the water from her dark hair, and sat down in the first available seat, she had finally allowed herself to look around. And there, three seats in front of her and to the left, he was. He had the easy nature of someone who caught the 83 everyday, and had dark hair and dancing eyes. He wore sneakers tattooed with biro and his clothes were rumpled. He carried a briefcase, which seemed odd, and also an art portfolio, which she thought suited him perfectly. She wanted to talk to him, but instead just watched the back of his head until he got off. She had long ago passed her own stop.
The very next day had been the occasion for the fifth bus ride. She hadn't needed to catch the bus at all, really. She had told herself she did, but deep down her heart knew when she was lying. Her traitorous stomach flipped as she boarded. She had distanced herself from him that day, scared that he might notice that she was looking at him from afar. Staring, soaking him into her skin. She couldn't risk it. He wore a faded band t-shirt with holes in it, and a different pair of shoes. He held a sketchpad on his lap and he drew, the bumps on the road not seeming to fault his lines. How he could do it she did not know. The sixth, and seventh bus rides passed in a similar fashion, and she varied the degrees of which she sat from him. He sat in the same seat every day.
But the eighth, oh, but the eighth. The eighth bus ride was when they finally spoke. She had dared to sit next to him that day -- on the opposite side of the aisle, but in line with him nonetheless. Up close she could see that he had green eyes and long, womanly lashes. Stubble lined his jaw, but his teeth were white and straight. He was drawing again. She peeked at it from the corner of her eye. It wasn't the kind of art she liked. She liked the classics, and people who imitated the art of Botticelli and Michelangelo. He drew graffiti sketches, words with random capitalisation and stark outlines. She found herself liking it. Suddenly, she became aware of him watching her. He smiled as she looked up.
"Like it?" he asked. He had a confident voice. She knew if she told him she hated it he would just laugh.
"Yes," she said quickly, her voice small. He grinned at her suddenly.
"You know," he said, still smiling, "You're really pretty." He got up and walked off the bus, while she was still trying to come up with a reply. A long time later she decided that maybe a 'thankyou' would have been sufficient.
On the day of the ninth bus ride it had been hailing. Big, heavy stones of ice, falling from the sky and undoubtedly a side effect of God's wrath. She had not decided what God might have been wrathful for. She had waited underneath the bus shelter, for once, shivering as the hail bounced on the road, shining. The bus arrived, and she stepped gratefully into its man-made warmth. But to her dismay, all the seats were taken. Every one had a person sitting, which meant she would have to sit next to somebody she did not know. And she hated sitting next to strangers, wary every since the incident of the sweating man at night. The artist sat alone, consumed by his drawing. Instead of sitting down at all she stood awkwardly near the front of the bus, staring out the window, the only sounds the purring engine and ice hitting the metal roof. Suddenly a voice cut through the silence.
"Would you like to sit here?" he asked, gesturing at the empty seat beside him. She pondered, unsure. But he looked so honest, and she soon found herself next to him, as primly as possible, almost unaware of how she had arrived there. She was acutely aware of all her limbs, and how they seemed to stick out at odd angles. She didn't fit into the bus. He did, though, as if he were a part of it.
"Do you catch this bus often?" he had asked, and she had smiled shyly before replying.
"Yes. I mainly people-watch."
"Are you an artist then? A writer?" She had shaken her head at both of his assumptions.
"I just wait tables."
"Oh," he said, "I do the occasional spot of hospitality part time, too. I'm a freelance graphic designer usually, but…" he shrugged, almost apologetic. "It doesn't always pay the bills, you know? I've been working in a studio in the city, recently."
She had nodded.
They talked for the rest of the bus ride. When he had finally left she allowed herself to melt, letting her soul drip down into a puddle on the stained bus seats.
On the tenth ride she had been unsure of how to act once she had gotten on the bus. She walked slowly, and sought his gaze. She had smiled, and started to walk past, when he had suddenly reached out and grabbed her arm.
"What are you doing?" he asked good-naturedly, "Sit next to me."
She had given in with very little convincing, and once again they talked. They talked about everything, from life to death to special birthing hospitals to cremation. Some of it, she felt, they said without words. She knew his stop was approaching soon, and she felt sad. This was the last ride on her ticket. Would she catch a bus again after this? She was not sure even his presence was enough to convince her.
She waited nervously for his departure, rehearsing a good bye in her mind. The stop came. It went. He stayed sitting beside her the whole time.
He was still talking animatedly, but she was suddenly worried. Had he forgotten to get off? She looked at him seriously and, stuttering, asked him why he had not gotten off at his usual stop. He had flushed then, a self-conscious tinge around the ears.
"To be honest," he said, "I actually didn't have anywhere to go today. I was just catching the bus because, well, I wanted to talk to you again."
She had looked at him strangely.
"Don't think I'm a wacko or anything," he said hurriedly, more embarrassed, "It's just that we had a nice conversation yesterday."
She still didn't say anything, and he seemed to sink, his shoulders sagging and his eyes creasing and his mouth becoming down turned. He was like a helium balloon she had once gotten from the fair, and watched as it slowly sank to the ground, defeated by gravity.
"Would you like to go out for coffee sometime?" he asked meekly.
She felt she wanted to inflate him again, and see the colour return to his eyes.
"Okay," she said simply, "How about now?" Now she was the one blushing, but she felt giddy. He visibly brightened, but then looked at her oddly.
"Aren't you going some where, though?"
She shrugged. "I told you I liked people watching. I have no where to be."
He laughed, deep and loud, even though it wasn't that funny. But he still looked embarrassed, just the slightest bit.
"Look," he said beseechingly, "I want you to know, I don't usually ask out strangers on the bus. I'm not weird or anything."
She smiled. "It's okay, I don't usually catch buses."
He laughed again, and had grinned at her until they arrived at the city.
She thought that maybe the tenth was the best bus ride of all.
AN. Just a writing exercise, because practice makes… better. Constructive crit is greatly appreciated. I was trying for repetition with 'she' being said so often, but was it too repetitive?