She was sitting on the bus and she was crying. She began by crying the way they do in the films, with fat tears rolling down her cheeks, framing an impassive face. And then she cried like they do in real life, eyes swollen and set deep within red blotchy skin. The girl struggled to control her breathing, alternating deep, calm gulps with near-hysterical choking, air catching in her throat.
And he was sitting directly opposite her, feeling obliged to react. He shifted from the window seat and swung his legs into the aisle until he was facing her. Dont cry, he said, fully aware of the impotence of his statement.
She looked up at him. It was entirely possible that now her face flushed with embarrassment. She knew she was making a scene, but under the circumstances, it was forgivable. She would have preferred it if everyone just assumed something terrible but private had happened, and let her be. She nodded politely at both of his words, but couldnt respond, not even with a smile.
He glanced round at the faces of the other passengers. They were few, they were elderly, they were curious. They craned their necks towards at the spectacle. She was radiating colours that werent really there, whites and golds, and they were struck, unable to dismiss her presence, unable to respond, only staring. He felt a sudden defensiveness swell. She was so vulnerable, alone on the journey and spilling tears. Sometimes all anyone needs is a little comfort.
He moved again, this time sitting next to her. Its going to be okay.
Indiscreetly she wiped her running nose on her sleeve. Not yet, she said.
Well all be okay in the end, he said, as though it was something deep and profound. Nothing is really deep and profound.
She looked at him, and managed a slight scowl. She only wanted peace. She wanted to watch the city slide by with a song in her head. She wanted the vibration and speed of the bus, she needed the motion. Every pause at traffic lights and stalling traffic jam felt like chains were being laid upon her shoulders. She felt ravaged. The propulsion of the bus was soothing. Travelling forward.
Whats the matter? he asked, too quietly for the spectators to hear.
She sighed another quivering breath, defeated as the bus stopped at a pedestrian crossing for a class of school children. My father is dead. Im going to his funeral.
Im sorry to hear that, he said, silently clocking her midnight ensemble and wondering how he didnt realise. She seemed so resigned and lost, he hadnt let himself consider anything beyond a broken heart. How did he die? If I can ask.
She was reluctant to share but felt she should reward his sentiment. He was in a car accident, she said, but he had been sick before that. Her eyes glazed slightly as she thought. He didnt go like we thought he would.
He nodded. Not many do.
The bus trundled on as they sat in silence. Their conversation lapsed and neither saw a way out. After all, he was already sitting beside her and couldnt simply return to his seat after opening a dialogue; it would be callous. Having taken the aisle seat, he had inadvertently trapped her by the window, so she couldnt leave either. But both tolerated the company, if not exactly appreciating it.
My father died too, he lied.
She nodded in understanding. Im sorry for you, she said, reluctant to share her grief.
He didnt know why he lied. It seemed like the right gesture to make, until he had said it and realised it was fairly heinous, regardless of the intent. He had a powerful urge to ease her suffering, and didnt want to offer only layers of empty sympathies. Maybe his lie would help her relate to him, help her somehow, but he still regretted it.
What are you doing with him? he asked, after a moment,
She frowned at the question. Burying him.
He said oh and again there was quiet, except for the snuffling noise made by her diminishing sobs. So was mine, he said, feeling awkward, I think its what he would have wanted. He was caught up in his fiction like a spiders web.
She nodded slightly. Dad had his plans made.
I think I would want to be cremated. I think. He could feel her body trembling beside him. It made him nervous, and perhaps excited. He coughed slightly. Maybe not though. I dont suppose it really matters when its happening to you. Its the people who are left behind that Im sorry, this is inappropriate, Im really sorry-
No, no, its okay, really. She strained her cheeks in what she hoped was a small but grateful smile. His distraction was only faintly welcome, but she thought his intentions were worthy and didnt want to seem hostile.
He stared ahead in a daze, thinking. You know the way in some cultures they set the body on fire? I cant imagine doing that. I cant imagine being the one to set someone I loved alight. I mean, to destroy the body like that. It seems so
unnecessary. He had never really thought about it before.
Theres beauty in difference, she reasoned.
I know that.
Just because you dont understand something doesnt mean its not right.
I know that too. I just think it would hurt a lot. Theres something reassuring about having the body intact.
I think it would probably hurt any way. She hesitated. I hope he wont be lonely, in the ground. I hope its not the wrong thing. Can you imagine if they never really died, like the mind still works and only the body has failed? Then for all of eternity wed just enhance their suffering by placing them in the earth when we thought we were doing the right thing. Theyd be fully conscious, only not alive, and just be...lying there in the dark, alone, always. That would be so awful. To be so lonely. There was a touch of hysteria in her voice. She lifted a hand and covered her mouth, frightened by her own thoughts.
He wondered whether he should put his arm around her, but decided that would be going too far. It might be nice down there, though. Peaceful, serene. Its good to escape the world sometimes. He stopped himself from continuing, realising how ridiculous their conversation had become. He tried to counsel once more. I know its hard now, but it will get easier. Its hard to see, but you wont mourn forever. You will always have your memories.
She locked her eyes on him, cold and clear, tinged with red blood vessels. They ached. She had cried all night. She had no time for his clichés, they didnt help. In fact, she almost laughed at his inanity. She stopped herself, then thought about how bad it would have been if she had laughed in his face, when he was being so awfully sincere. That made her want to laugh even more. Instead she wrung her hands, listening to her skin rubbing, making a strange sound that she equated with sleigh bells or snakeskin. She felt sorry for him. He seemed nice.
The bus slowed down. He looked out the window. I have to get off here, he said, then reconsidered. Do you want me to go all the way with you?
She smiled at his offer. Its really not necessary, thank you.
He stood shakily as the bus shuddered to a halt. Will I ever see you again? he asked. She shrugged. He took a step to go, but paused and leant close to her face with one hand on her shoulder.
Never think that youre alone. It was not what she needed to hear, but she was glad he said it anyway.