The windows are misted. Outside is cold and damp. There is slush, brown and gritty, lining the roads. The bus sloshes through it, spraying it across the pavements; the occasional pedestrian cursing as they are soaked by the wave of what once was the soft, fluffy snow they adored but now stains their jeans with a grimy salt line. It’s slow going, the bus easing along. It’ll be late by the time they get there.
The sun is already low in the sky, casting grim dancing shadows down the side of the bus. It’ll be dark soon.
It is silent but for the clunking of the old bus as it trundles on, and the sniffing of the odd passenger. Time passes. It is unclear how long, but the sun has almost disappeared. The wind is now thudding against the windows, attempting to find a way in.
At the front of the bus a child starts crying. Just muffled whimpers of a cry.
You can hear your father’s voice. He’s saying it’s not good news. You don’t understand. Why is he here? He should be at work anyway.
Did he really just say that?
They never made it in time.
Tears swel in your eyes. You dare not blink in fear of the blurriness leaking out. Your face is hot and clammy despite the cold wintery air. You screw up your face, trying not to let the tears fall.
You have to be strong.
He’s asking if you want to go home. You nod slowly, looking up to keep the tears from spilling over the edge.
Hold it together.
The child is screaming now. Passengers are muttering in resentment while the mother coos, trying to calm it.
An ache fills your heard, pulsing across your brow.
You lean your head against the wet glass. It’s cool and hard, pressing against your temple. Condensation clings to your cheek. The chill of the glass soothes it a little but it’s still there, throbbing in the background.
You close your eyes, letting the droplets from the window stick to your face. A sigh slips from between your lips, a ghost of it lingering in the air before you.
The bus slows, pulling into a stop. Opening your eyes you see, outside, an elderly lady as she steps back to avoid the slush that is churned up as the wheels come to a stop against the curb. She is wrapped up tight in brightly coloured scarves. Her arms are laden with bags of groceries.
The doors squeak open and the lady shuffles forwards, slipping slightly. The driver doesn’t see; too busy rubbing his hands together for warmth as a gust steals through the bus. She fumbles in her pocket, retrieving a tattered bus card, which she holds up to the driver in a shaky hand. He nods to her, and the doors squeak closed, shutting out the cruel wind as it begins to pick up again. He blows into his hands then the bus starts on again.
The child has stopped screaming; it is whimpering now.
The lady begins to make her way up the bus, her bags bashing against all the seats she passes. You watch her. The way she shuffles; her apologetic looks and ‘sorry dear’s to the other passengers. She is smiling softly the whole time. But why? It’s cold and grey outside. The other passengers ignore her with mutterings of disapproval. She must be frozen, and those bags are far too heavy for her frail frame to carry. Still she smiles though: at the driver who didn’t help her; at the baby who just stopped crying; at all the other passengers who grumbled as she squeezed passed.
Eventually she reaches you, looking at the free seat.
“Do you mind dear?” she asks. Her voice is soft and friendly – a warmth reaching out to you.
You feel yourself smiling too, and find yourself shaking your head, “not at all.”