I mistimed one of my glances and found her looking back at me. She smiled like a neighbour who didn’t know my name but knew I lived close enough to feel obligated to acknowledge me. It was more than you’d get from an ugly stranger, so I counted myself lucky considering I was probably one to her.
She scanned the pros and cons of all areas on the top deck and as the joy her pleasant, citrusy scent gave whilst passing me faded, I realised she’d made her final choice to sit right behind me.
My worry burned through my mind for a good few minutes of the journey until it was loudly interrupted.
I grew tense. Was she looking at the back of my head? Did I get my hair cut recent enough for it to look okay? What was she thinking?
“If you don’t love me then why don’t ya just leave me?!” A woman at the front of the bus stood up and stormed down the stairs.
Her clothes looked like they’d been lying unfolded for days before being reused, and if humans could share that look, she’d have it.
“Why don’t you stop running from everything for once?” A man shot up from the seat next to her and followed her outraged stomp downstairs, looking exactly how you’d expect him to.
I suddenly became aware of my situation and the opportunity I was surrounded by. I had to say something. Make it funny. Please laugh. Oh god, please laugh. I turned around to face her. She was looking out of the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the bickering couple.
This whole town is just a cesspit of degenerates. These kinds of occurrences in public are far from unusual around here. Still, it caused an air-lingering tension on the bus like a classroom of students that just got scolded.
“I wonder if they still thanked the bus driver?” I delivered, with every ounce of confidence I could scrape off of the walls of my lungs.
She giggled before even looking at me. Thank god she laughed. Her lively eyes engulfed mine. “Would you want them to say anything to you?” She took me back.
A laugh would’ve been enough, but there I was, engaging with the woman of my dreams, ticking every box I had.
It wasn’t small talk. We really were interested. The conversation wove together and layered each other. Every remark I left floating in the air was plucked out of it by her, rearranged and given back to me perfectly. She was perfect.
Whilst spitting out whatever thought appeared in my mind, knowing she’d make it better, I noticed her hand reaching for the stop button and my heart sank.
I finished my generic workplace story or relatable rant prematurely to avoid an awkward end to a beautiful encounter.
“My mum’s house is just up here and as much as I’d love to stay, she’d worry if I got home late! It was lovely speaking.” It really was.
“Yeah, you too. I’ll hopefully see you about.” I spoke in a tone with happiness and disappointment entwined. She smiled at me, unlike any smile you’d give a neighbour or an ugly stranger. She meant it this time.
I watched her walk down the road through the window. She was just about to disappear into her mum’s drive, but she stopped. She looked back at the bus with a look of confused but loving reminiscence.
I felt my eyes fill with desperation before turning into tears as the bus began moving. I was close.
I played our conversation in my head over and over. Her workplace, her dogs name, her favourite band. I knew them all already, I just asked so I could hear that love in her voice and see that passion in her face.
It’s been 2 years since my wife had her car accident. Every day her memory starts again after 24 hours. Her mum’s the only person she remembers.
I catch her bus every day to see her. I can never reveal who I am, or was. I can’t watch the love of my life squint and stutter whilst trying to place my name again.
If she fell in love with me once, I can make her do it again. Maybe those feelings will urge her to remember me.
Every afternoon I’ll catch that same bus, and every night I’ll think about the time I no longer have to. When we can both look back and shudder at what I was. What I am now.
An ugly stranger.