You're sitting by a park bench and there's a man sitting next to you. It's not really a man, but more someone your age; too old to be called a teenager but not of the age to be entitled the respect of an adult. So you label him a fellow and keep eating your sandwich. Soon enough, but not soon enough that you've begun to forget about him, he stands and walks past. You brush the crumbs from our shirt and scrunch the paper from your sandwich into a ball. You would've stood, and gone to wait by the bus stop but he comes as your pulling the hood over your bag, his ear to a phone. He sits and you let your bag slip from your hands and rest beside you.
"Mate if you're joshing me around here."
You notice his voice is loud, as if he doesn't care if anyone hears him or he's forgotten there's other people around. A lady a few benches down looks up and across but then returns to her book.
"Where? How do I get there?"
He's got one hand on his legs which you think is bobbing up and down. You look straight ahead, then down at your bag to get a better glimpse of him on your way.
"Yeah no don't worry, I'll figure it out, thanks."
For a minute he sits with his ear to the phone and you feel like there's no one on the other side anymore. Then he lets it drop and returns it to his pocket.
He's looking at you and you look up, trying to seem as if you hadn't been listening to his conversation.
"Do you know anything about where the buses go?"
Behind you there's a line of about 8 bus stops, each having different buses pulling up to them to take people across the city.
"Something," you say. "Where do you want to get to?"
"The um." He looks for a moment as if he's forgotten but then slowly things appear to work again. "The hospital, the one by the beach, I can't even remember what's it's called now, it's oh-"
"Yes." Relief crosses his face.
"Do you know which bus would get me there?"
"The 133, it will take you right outside."
He looks behind them. "Do you know which stop?"
You stand and pick up your bag.
"I'll show you, I'm catching the same bus it comes in two minutes."
He follows you down the stairs and past the bin where you dump your sandwich wrapper and to a stand already lined with people.
"Will we get on?" He asks apprehensively.
Though it looks like a lot the line has only just started to ring back past the seats.
"Easily." You know you'll get on though you may not get a seat.
The bus pulls in and you start to shuffle up. You wonder if it's appropriate to ask him why he wants to go to the hospital but decide against him, knowing that you're a still a stranger.
By the time your reach the doors of the bus there's one seat left. You walk behind him and he stops.
You can see his hands shaking slightly and wouldn't be surprised if his legs were also.
"No you take it, I've been sitting all day, I need to stretch my legs."
"Course." You wouldn't mind taking the seat but you can tell it will do him more good. It would also do you good to actually stretch your legs a bit.
You grab hold of the hole behind his seat and stand there whilst the last couple of people file on. You're in the space right beside the middle door. As the bus starts to move your fingers grip the pole tighter but relax after the initial jerk.
He's looking up at you and you move across to be more beside him so he doesn't have to turn his head so much.
"I just realised I never said thank you, I'm so sorry for that I didn't mean to be so rude."
"It's alright. Some people never say thank you and that's when it's bad." You always were a curious girl and different lines slip through your head of how you can ask him why he's going to the hospital without seeming rude. But you know there's no way to do it and so you just hang on and wait for him to say something.
"My mind's just all over the place at the moment. You know when something just suddenly happens, you go everywhere."
"Like all the straight things you think about go wiggly."
"Yeah," he smiles and laughs a little, for a moment the stress slightly leaving his face.
By the way he looks you guess it's not a good thing. A sudden trip to the hospital can't be a good thing. You wonder there's been a crash or drugs or suicide or anything that will mean there'll be one less person on this world. You pray for your new friend the stranger.
"How long will the bus take?" He asks.
You wish you could say it's just round the block but you know that when it's been just round the block he'll know you lied.
"About forty minutes, but there shouldn't be much traffic this time of day so it might be better."
He nods and you wish again you could've said less.
His leg is shaking again and you pray that there's little traffic.
"Have you ever been to Glenhaven?" You ask.
"Only once, I had a friend who lived near there so I trekked it over to go to the beach. First time I had to catch a bus alone, I got lost. But I've got some friends who live kinda nearby, I've been telling them we need to go."
"Oh no. How do you get around then if you don't catch buses?"
"I'm from out east, I train it everywhere."
"Of course." She knew the transport differences between people from her side and his. She knew the things people talked about about his side and hers. Hers was the rich side, full of people with beach-front houses and refinement and snobbishness. His was the other side, full of orange tans, backwards caps and pregnant teenagers.
"Do you live near the beach?" He asked and you wonder if talking made him forget his worries.
"Kind of. Not close enough to walk but close enough to easily get there."
"Is it nice?"
You stop suddenly at some lights and jolt for a moment but regain your composure.
"I've never really been a beach person, pity for where I live but I don't think I've gone swimming for at least three years."
"And you say you live near the beach, you don't live up to it."
You shrug. "If I liked it I would, but I prefer my skin to not look a tomato."
He laughs, just a little but it makes you smile.
"So what special things do you have out east?"
His leg has stopped shaking, though his hands are clenched together and you wonder if his nails are digging into his skin.
"Nothing really. Not anything you wouldn't have here."
You've never been east, it's true there's no reason for you to bother going out that way but you feel like you should of, like you are the snobbish girl from the beach side. But you're not.
"Well I'm sure it's a fun place anyway."
"Nah," he shakes his head. "People around there find their fun in other ways."
By now you're a bit further than halfway. The traffic has been good and you feel like you've barely had any red lights.
"We're halfway there," you say, thinking it might give him a bit of hope.
He glances outside. "All those shops look so nice."
You're going through the rich suburb, and though you're passing the main road lined with shops that sell overpriced old women's clothes and skincare products with innovative new ingredients like moss you know that behind them are houses with pristine fences surrounding always green grass. You want one day to live in one of these houses but you don't expect to.
"They're all just overpriced and trying to scam you into believing its better. They make old women believe blue hair will make them younger."
You wonder if he aims to just live in a place like yours shake it from your head as soon as it slips in. You don't want to think like that, like you're any better than him. Just because people say things doesn't mean he wears backwards caps and will get a girl pregnant tomorrow.
"Must have a lot of money to throw around if they believe that crap."
"Oh yeah, far too much money."
The bus stops at a light and he looks through his bag to pull out his phone. There must be nothing to see for he puts it back and looks up at you.
"Thank you, did I say that already?"
You smile. "Yeah don't worry you know your manners."
He smiles back. "My minds just all over the place."
"You've already said that too."
You hope he doesn't think you're rude but he smiles.
"Things are gonna change now and I don't know."
You're not sure if you should prompt him to elaborate or just console him. You want to know but you don't want to pry.
"It'll be alright."
"Even if it is it will be hard. You know I've heard people talk about things like this, it's never easy."
"I'm sure you'll see it through fine, just don't worry about it, it will be better."
He nods and falls into silence for a moment then looks up.
"You're right, things will be fine, I've just got to not spend all my time worrying about it."
You're rounding the corner and you see the stretch that leads to the beach.
"The beach is just up there," you say pointing to ahead. For you it holds no excitement but perhaps it holds some for him.
When the bus turns left he stares out the window and you watch him. You want very much know to reach out and give him a hug, or at least a pat on the shoulder or even just a slight brush against the air around his arm. You don't know if there'll be anyone waiting for him apart from the person he's going to see but just in case you don't want him to feel alone. You're a stranger but you want him to know someone cares.
"The bus hasn't stopped." He turns to you suddenly, a worried expression on his face but not the anxious one that's been there for the trip. It's a fleeting worry.
"This is an express bus it doesn't stop for awhile, but we just went past the first place it stops so it's alright."
His worried expressions is replaced by the more stagnant anxious one.
"We're really close to, about five minutes."
He smiles and you smile back, happy that soon he'll be there. You hope that whatever's happened isn't that bad, that it can be easily fixed and soon he'll be in joyful relief. You hope that he'll walk out and look at the beach which he isn't used to and smile. You know he's not the person people say his side are and even if he was it wouldn't make any difference in wishing him well. He's a fellow who doesn't catch buses and you're a stranger that's never been to the east. But it never mattered.
"I know I've said this but one last time, thank you, you've been such a help."
"It's no problem." You press the button for him. "Your stops next."
He gets up and hangs onto the same pole as you.
"What's your name?" He asks.
The bus pulls to the curb and the door opens.
He gives a wave to the driver and begins to step off the bus. As his feet hit the ground he turns suddenly as if an afterthought has crossed his mind and you see a smile. A smile that breaks across his face and covers over every inch of stress in his body.
"Maybe we'll name her that."
The door closes and you stand, still gripping the pole that you've been holding the whole time, feeling your body lurch as the bus pulls away and you realise you're not holding on tightly enough. You take the seat that's now empty at the leaving of the fellow and look straight ahead as you hear the ring of someone pressing the button. You smile and pick a crumb that's somehow managed to get caught in your hair. For the first time that day you really smile.