Isobel Terry

Bus stops.

The bus stops. He sits at the front upstairs to see the view. A group of teenagers pour into the back seats. Laughter and remarks to everyone and no one.  He combs his fingers through his bushy black hair. He holds tightly onto his rucksack and hums to calm himself. The sounds of their voices get louder. He gets up to go downstairs. Safer down there. His eyes scan the rows of faces for an empty place.One next to the window, a man gets up to let him in. He sits down.  

The animated chatter and exclamations of the driver to his mate. The tunes on the radio hover between chant and melody. A road into mountains. Bare rock. The cracking of glaciers. Peaks merge with sky. A place where plates collide and mountains grow. The sea is far away. The muffled cough and spluttering of a woman sat on the back seat. It was all sound. Woman sat at the back completely covered. At stops the men got out to let them in and out averting their eyes. Only the men left the bus to pray.

The bus stops. It is not a stop.

The driver and his mate get out to clear a huge boulder in the road. People to help appear from nowhere. Tumbling torrents of clear water. A howling of wind. A running tap. The smell of gasoline and sweat. He stands on the edge of the road tall and poised flicking a small ball between his feet. ‘Keep up’ he plays. His legs twist and rotate. From afar he appears naked dancing on that hillside. No one surrounds him. The ball stays in the air. It can be heard more than seen. A sound of dried seeds falling.

The lights are red. The sun is strong. A woman at the crossing. A car does not stop. Thud. She softens into the impact and spins on the bonnet. Her legs extend and toes point out into the air. She slides off the wing landing on the tarmac. The car stops just inches from her hands. She is completely still, her breath shallow. The driver’s face is frozen in the windscreen. Eyes wide. The rucksack on her back cushions the blow. Her cells spill out all over the road . Some remain on the spot.

At a small village all the men descend. She gets on the bus. The only western woman in these parts. Her bright scarf is drawn tightly around her head. She lowers her face. The women shuffle closer together and she sits down between them. The hooter calls.The engine starts. A rattle of the exhaust. The driver begins to sing along with the radio. A smell of lavender. The spluttering stops. Faint female laughter. The men return and bus moves on. He senses her behind him.
   

Suddenly she is standing. He does not see how this happens. Some people have gathered around her. They do not touch her. Her face is drained of blood. She waves her arms around moving her lips. The traffic piles up in a long line around the corner. The sound of a siren’s wail. An ambulance is trying to reach her. He looks at her intently for a very long time, breathing through glass. Her hands clasp the railings by the crossing. Sunlight catches her hair. She closes her eyes. The cells return inside the membrane of her skin. A molecular calling. Membranes permeablity changed. Forever.

A checkpoint. A thin barrier. Stoned soldiers surface from their post. Three local men are waiting. One boards the bus holding his Kalashnikov over his shoulder. They have come for her. She does not cry out. There is no sound. All the passengers stay seated and still. In the aisle her scarf falls from her head. She turns to look at him. Her soft eyes, a faint smile. Time is still. Her glance, it hits the back of his eyes like a arrow. In a few seconds she is gone. Head covered. The barrier lifts the bus passes through. The four disappear up a steep path. All he sees is barren brown rock. Black ravens fly around from all directions stretching across a blue grey sky. 

The lights turn green. The traffic does not move. She feels the hand of someone touching her back, just behind her heart. She takes a new breath. A breath from behind herself. The ambulance arrives. He sinks into his seat. The man next to him nods his head. A vague smile. Of mutual recogniton having seen her too.  And her falling and standing. The teenagers tumble down the stairs, the next stop is theirs. He remembers a missing piece.

The sound of the kiss she left on his left cheek.

The bus moves on.

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