I check myself on my phone camera, under the guise of skipping through my playlist, and am actually pretty pleased. I mean, there’s nothing I can do about my pointy nose, boring brown hair, or wonky teeth, but I am currently spot and make up smudge free. I pretend to smile at the old lady in front of me and – hallelujah! – my teeth are also lunch-free.
I push my hair back to make sure you can see my headphones and for once, I’m actually glad that Mum got the white ones and not the more subtle black ones I’d asked for; they’re going to stand out against my hair, there’s no way Jonny won’t see them. I can’t believe he’s on my bus. He’s on my bus! Why is he on my bus? He can’t be going home, this is the totally wrong direction for his house. And it’s NOT weird that I know that.
I use the reflection in the bus window to watch him. God, he looks so cool – how does he do that? Why can’t I do that? I mean, I can sit, obviously, but not like that. I shuffle down my seat slightly, suddenly aware that I’m sitting very straight, kicking my rucksack further under the seat when someone has grabs hold of my foot. What the hell? Oh, no, it’s okay. It’s my bag. My foot is trapped in the strap of my bag.
Oh my god. My foot is trapped in the strap of my bag. I can’t get up. I need to get up. It must be my stop soon. I need a wee. Glancing out of the window, I catch sight of the supermarket at the entrance to our estate and I know with a crushing certainty that this is how I’m going to die.
A vision of me slumped in my seat, eyes wide and staring vacantly in the direction of a police detective as he makes his way up the double decker stairs in a few days time flashes through my mind.
‘Why didn’t she just get off, dammit?’ he says, blinking away the tears.
‘Couldn’t, Sarge,’ replies a slightly podgy, rosy-cheeked beat bobby, clutching a conical police hat. ‘Foot was trapped.’
‘Such a waste. So young. Better let the family know.’
The ding of the bell rouses me from imagining my mother collapsing at the sight of the police at our front door and my heart stutters in my chest because this is my stop. I kick my leg back and forth violently, desperately trying to release my foot from the rucksack strap without showing any signs of panic on my face. My foot comes free just as the bus comes to a stop outside the playground. I hear a clatter on the aisle and feel something wet on my foot as I smooth my hair back into place and subtly wipe the sweat away from my upper lip with the sleeve of my shirt.
I jump from the seat and squeal slightly at the sudden tapping on my shoulder (I say a silent prayer that it wasn’t too loud but I can’t actually tell for sure with my headphones on). I turn and see Jonny laughing in his seat behind a woman about my mum’s age with a blotchy red face and a black shoe in her hand. I look down at my own foot and am shocked to find that it shoeless and slap bang in the middle of the puddle of rain water that my brolly has created. My shoe. No. I want to die. I don’t want to look up but the woman is waving both the shoe and her spare hand in my face to get my attention. I don’t think she’s going to go quietly.
My face is getting hotter by the second and I know that I’m blushing. My hands are slippery with sweat and shaking slightly as I lift them to my head, managing to poke myself in the eye as I push my headphones down my head and onto my neck.
‘Shit. Ow. Fuck.’ I blurt before catching her disapproving eye. ‘Sorry.’
She rolls her eyes and slams the shoe down onto the seat next to me so hard that it immediately bounces back off onto the floor. We both reach for it, banging heads as we move towards each other.
‘Shit. Ow. Fuck. Sorry. Thanks. Sorry. Thank you.’
She gets to my shoe first and bundles it into my arms before heading down the stairs. I notice Jonny laughing pretty hard, his phone in his hands as I turn back towards the front of the bus. I bet he’s texting one of his rugby mates about this stupid girl on the bus that is making a complete fool of herself. Christ. Kill me now. Seriously.
I shove my shoe back on my foot, ignoring the gross feeling of my wet tights inside and wait for the woman I accidentally threw my shoe at to get to the bottom of the stairs before I press the STOP button. I remember my headphones at the last minute as I stand up and lurch forwards down the aisle as I put them back on top of my head, just managing to scrabble for the nearest metal post to save myself. I can see the STOPPING sign blinking repeatedly at the front of the bus and feel as much as see everyone’s eyes on me as the bus finally begins to slow and I feel I can risk taking another step away from this hellish journey.
When I take my hand off the metal pole, it feels for a moment as if part of it is coming away with my hand. Confused, and panicking slightly that I’m leaving a chunk of my skin as well as all my dignity behind, I look down and realise my hand has been firmly and constantly on the STOP button for the past thirty seconds, making the STOPPING sign flash annoyingly and the bell ring non-stop.
I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath. For fuck’s sake. Just get me off this bus so that I can start pretending this never happened, please.
I manage to get to the top of the stairs without further incident and risk a quick glance at Jonny’s seat as I make my way down the stairs. He’s still smiling, his teeth gleaming against the dull grey sky, dimples deep enough to swim in. He winks cheekily and waves his hand quickly as I descend and it takes every bit of my concentration to make it the rest of the way without stumbling.
My heart samba beats as I take the large step down onto the pavement at the bus stop. I move dreamily to the bright orange bar that serves as a bench at the bus shelter, paying no attention to anything else around me so that I can commit that smile and wink combo – Smink? Wile? Smink – to memory forever.
Oh hell yes
When a car goes past, splurging water over the edge of the pavement and splattering my legs with cold water, I finally look around me. I’m at the stop at the far end of the estate, a good twenty minute walk back the way I’ve just come in the pouring rain to get home.
I suddenly feel the absence of something in my hand – I’ve left my brolly on the bus. Shit.