It’s a damp night and I’m tired. Tired of working nights and tired of waiting for the last bus, which always runs late. I’m relieved to see blurred lights emerge through the gloom, and I hear the slosh of wet tyres as the single-decker rounds the corner, pulling in level with me. The steamed-up windows, coupled with the grime of the day, make it difficult to see inside but I can’t make out any other passengers. Perhaps I’ll be able to stretch out at the back and catch a few winks. I wait for the doors to open, eager for the warmth.
The driver manages a practiced smile as I flash my pass at the ticket machine and make a grab for the nearest handrail as the doors close behind me with a hiss. The bus lurches forward: he’s in a rush to finish his shift. The night mist has followed me on, and it hangs in the air like a shroud – there’s a foul odour too that I can almost taste.
I’m surprised to see several of the seats already occupied and hide my disappointment when I spot three or four teenagers sprawled along the back seats. Although the group is unusually quiet, there’s a strong smell of alcohol so, staying near the front, I swing into a sideways-facing seat opposite an elderly woman who is cradling a small dog. Uneasy that she is out alone this late, I think of striking up a conversation, but her watery eyes avoid mine.
I can’t see the face of a guy a few seats down as he’s wearing a motorcyclist’s helmet and full leathers. Perhaps he’s had a breakdown or not going far but, despite the chilly atmosphere on the bus, I’m thinking he must be warm. Maybe that’s what I can smell.
The bus approaches a tight bend and I feel the driver touch the brakes – I expect he knows there’s often floodwater here and is just being cautious. In the daylight, I’ve seen shoppers waiting at the garden centre bus stop, standing back from the tidal wave.
I notice that the bus hasn’t stopped to pick up more passengers. Nothing unusual at this time of night, and my fellow travellers all seem to be going to the end of the journey with me.
Apart from the noiseless back-seat youngsters, the old lady with the dog, and the solemn motorcyclist, there are two young people huddled together, holding hands. Unlike the others, the pair are only wearing the thinnest of clothing as if they had just come from a summer party. There’s a coldness hanging about them that makes me shiver.
The bus terminal is in sight, and I make my way quickly to the doors, keen to leave the bus and its dismal occupants.
A blinding glare from the lights of an oncoming vehicle turns my head back to the driver’s window. The car must be doing some speed, as it disappears immediately, heading back up the unlit country road behind us.
For the first time, the bus driver speaks.
“Drives me crazy that does, the speeds they do on this road,” he says as he shuts down the engine and interior lights, leaving us all in a sudden and unexpected darkness. “There’s been no end of accidents on those bends,” he continues. “Just the other week there was a motorcyclist killed, and the garden centre still puts out flowers for that dear old lady and her little dog, such a shame. As for those youngsters…,” he trails off. “Well, that’s me done. Guess it’s just you and me out tonight, eh?”
A new chill wraps its icy fingers around me as I peer back down the darkened bus to the empty seats. There are no other passengers waiting to get off.
© Margaret Jakins