This story is by Luci Rodda and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The old bus rattled its way up the hill. I found a seat near the front, facing inwards to the aisle. Popping my headphones in, I tried to switch off from my surrounds like any other morning; but a maddening high pitch rung in my ears distracting me, and I found myself replaying the seething argument with my mother from the previous afternoon, over in my head.
Dissecting the acrimonious words thrown between us, I felt the same indignant rage reigniting once again. My mother had yet again been pointing out where I was going wrong and seemed to take pleasure in reminding me of the life decisions I had made in failure. She had the audacity to point out that had it not been for her meddling in my life, I would have no doubt turned into an impoverished bohemian by now. My dream of owning a little inner-city art gallery was well and truly squashed.
My inner harangue of my mother was interrupted three stops later, when he got on the bus. Taking the spare seat directly across from me, the ear ringing had now ceased and his presence had pulled my entire attention.
While his age was difficult to place, it was clear he dressed to impress. Impeccably sharp, dark-grey coat, heady cologne, and gaudy gold watch, he carried a confidence about him that made him unavoidably noticeable. The Tuesday morning paper was folded neatly, resting on his lap. The top half of the front page was hidden, of what appeared to be a large photograph, and obviously the main headline. The bold print however clearly highlighted the morning’s key story – a robbery gone wrong at the bus stop on the corner of St Georges and William, the victim was stabbed. I was horrified at such a senseless tragedy this close to home. It must have happened after I left that stop, I’d not seen anything on leaving the office the previous day.
An involuntary shudder crawled over my skin, as I realised the man was looking directly at me. His lips quirked upwards, satisfied that he’d garnered my attention and gracefully linked his fingers together, before placing them delicately on his lap. Each action seemed well thought out.
“Such an unfortunate tragedy in the city, wouldn’t you agree?” His voice was a low, deep rumble, and his proper tone felt far out of place in such an ordinary situation.
Unsure, I was non-committal in my nod. I assumed that he was referring to the robbery, and given I knew nothing except that small snippet of story from his newspaper, I had zero further to afford him.
Not really one for inviting conversation with strangers I returned a polite smile, and went to put my headphones back in. But a violent jerking of the bus as it rounded a corner, lurched me forward out of my seat, and the man leaned towards me and steadied me without effort. His reaction so quick, and his composure so well maintained, it was like he had known it was coming.
“Er, thank you,” I responded somewhat awkwardly, his firm grip on my upper arms warm through my cardigan, as he helped me upright onto my seat.
He smiled and waved off my gratitude, with an ‘it happens all the time’ gesture. I raised my eyebrows somewhat amused and disbelieving.
He glanced down at his wristwatch sighing, before looking back up at me. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have much time.”
“Time for what?” Was all I managed before the bus pulled hard again, this time I was thrown back hard onto my seat. I took stock at being thrown around the bus. No one else seemed to be affected, let alone notice me being tossed around.
I glanced out of the window ahead, and worked out there was still another good ten minutes before the bus reached my corner stop in the city.
I glanced back at the man in confusion. He leaned forward towards me again, this time the folded newspaper outstretched in my direction. His expression implored me to take it from him, so I hesitantly mirrored his action and accepted the paper. I unfolded the headlines, and my hands started to tremble involuntarily from my tightening grip on the paper. Staring up from the print was me – a hollow smile, frozen in time. The headlines read of tragedy, and a young promising life hanging in the balance.
My young life.
The man just sat quietly and watched.
“No – NO! This isn’t right!” I reeled in outrage, not caring to who heard.
Immediately, he moved and sat himself next to me. Reaching out, he covered my hands. A calming warmth washed over.
“I don’t understand,” I stared down at his touch and whispered.
I felt another violent shoving overwhelm me but this time he held me steady.
“What do you love most about your life?” He asked gently.
Without question, I knew that what I loved most were the people in my life. I felt my head sway, thrown at the thought that my last words yesterday to my mother were spoken in anger and resentment. Had my dream been more important than telling her I loved her?
A frustration began to swell though at the thought that I was not able to run my own life without my mother trying to sabotage a part of it. Without warning, a second thought followed – or was it that I, was allowing her to sabotage it?
The man smiled triumphantly at my realisation.
“If you had one more chance, what would you do?” And he stood and made his leave as the bus slowed.
An intensely hard thud jolted my body hard backwards once again and my eyes flung open. The bright light above me stung my eyes with a flurry of activity and blurred faces whirring around.
I knew I had a long road ahead. Even more so, grateful I knew now, what I had to do.