Night Bus: The Second Stop
Stasha was aware she was being watched. He was in the aisle adjacent to her, and his eyes weighed heavy. She sought sanctuary in the droplets of condensation on the window, but found only his reflection. He was smiling. The window was jammed open and the cold invades the upper deck. She shivered, pulling her baby closer.
Stasha had given birth just a day earlier. It had been surprisingly easy to hide the pregnancy from Mum and Dad. The cold snap had actually helped, and as she approached the final trimester she found she could easily conceal her burgeoning bump under layers of baggy clothes.
The pains had started at breakfast. Naively she had thought she was just getting the stomach flu. By the time the final bell rang she was in so much pain she could hardly breathe. Little Stevie had started his life in the toilet of West Valley High School, and his mother had been riding the bus ever since.
The stranger shifted in his seat and coughed. Stasha jumped, and her heart quickened. Little Stevie didn’t stir. The last of the night club traffic had vacated their seats a while ago, and they had been alone on top deck of the bus for over an hour now. The tension had become unbearable.
“Getting late girl. You and the kid should be home by now. No good for a baby, a night like this. Your boyfriend will be getting worried.”
“We’ll be fine.” She had wanted to sound firm, and confident, but what left her lips was barely a whisper.
“Hey suit yourself love, jut a concerned citizen over here.”
The silence returned for a little while. Stasha turned her attention back to the window, and watched as the city centre disappeared from view. All the while the strangers stare never left her. The bright lights had been comforting, now she there was only isolation.
No matter how lonely she got there was no going home now. There was only Stevie and this bus forever. Home was Dad’s anger and Mum’s guilt. If this ride could just go on for ever, she’d never have to face either of them again.
“You hungry love?”
She turned to find he was holding out a bar of chocolate. Her stomach growled. When had she last eaten anything? Was it breakfast yesterday? She remembered that she hadn’t really felt like anything. The pains had been niggling away, and she had only managed a bite of the toast her mum made, before she left for school.
Stasha hesitated. It could be laced with poison, or some kind of date rape drug for all she knew. She was so hungry though. She tried to gauge his intentions. He was a little older than her, about seventeen or eighteen. His had wispy black hair on his top lip, but the rest of his face was bare. His eyes were an impossible green, and she thought saw honesty in them.
“It’s just chocolate love, I promise. You look pale. Are you sick?”
She snatched the offering from his hand and gobbled it down quickly. She had been starving, and as the velvet sweet coated her mouth she immediately wanted more. The stranger produced another from a bag on the seat next to him.
“Take it. I can always get more if I need it. You look like you need it more than me anyhow.”
She took it gratefully, and it went the same way as the last one.
“Who you running from love?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh I’ve been riding this bus for a long time, and I’ve seen plenty of runaways. Some I can’t help, some I don’t want to, and then there’s a few who get lucky.” He looked her up and down. “Don’t know which category you fall into yet, but I do know I can smell runner all over you girl.” He reached back into the bag, this time producing a bottle of water.
It was so refreshing, filling her arid mouth, liquid joy. Her body drank it up, and her mind began to clear. Hunger and dehydration had muddled her thoughts.
The urge to unburden felt overwhelming. She hadn’t spoken to anyone since the day before, but she couldn’t tell this guy her story no matter how much chocolate he had.
“Look mate, I’m grateful for the food and drink and all that, but me and the baby we’ll be just fine. We’re out for a ride that’s all.”
The stranger smiled.
“If that’s true, what’s with the tears?”
She hadn’t realised it but she was actually crying. He got out of his chair and crossed the aisle to the seat in front of her. Stasha sank a little further into the seat, and held her child a little tighter. She felt trapped, and full of fear.
He reached over the seat, and pulled at the school cardigan she had used to swaddle her infant. It slipped away revealing Stevie’s head. It still had the birth stuff on it. She had ran from the toilets, and didn’t think to clean him up. She had been so scared about getting caught. Stevie didn’t flinch as the cardigan fell away.
“He’s such a good baby.” She said. “He never cries. Even when he was born in that freezing cold toilet stall, he was such a little angel.” Her tears were in full bloom now, and she sobbed hard.
“Was he dead when he came out of you?” Said the stranger, his tone so matter of fact.
She nodded. “I think so yeah.” Then she moaned. Her agony was so intense.
The stranger stroked the child’s head, as he spoke to Stasha. His words were like silk, wrapping themselves around her.
“Such a young one, and you’ve been through so much already haven’t you?”
Stasha could only nod. The sobbing shook her whole body and she couldn’t answer.
The stranger slumped back in his seat, pressing the back of his head against the window and staring at the ceiling. He closed his eyes as if in silent prayer. The bus rolled on.
Stasha’s pain filled every cell in her body. She sensed that the ride was coming to an end, but she didn’t want to get off. That would mean letting go of Stevie. She held him closer and waited for her grief to take her, maybe that’s what she needed. She was to be denied even that, as she felt something tugging at the cardigan.
Through tear drenched eyes she could see the stranger reaching over the seat in front. Realisation came slowly. Then it his her like a car crash. He was trying to take her Stevie. She screamed and for the first time since she boarded the bus tried to stand up. Her head swooned and her knees buckled. They just couldn’t support her and she fell back down.
“No please don’t.” She screamed. Then as loud as her dry throat would allow, “Help me. He’s taking my baby!”
The stranger was undeterred. Where the hell was the driver. Why hadn’t he stopped the bus? Then she felt her baby leave her arms. The emptiness was agony. Stasha almost blacked out, but fought against darkness with everything she had.
“Please don’t take my baby. I don’t have anything else.”
The stranger looked at her and made a shushing gesture. “Just a moment. Give me just one moment.” He whispered.
Then kissed the baby’s head, closing his eyes once more. He held its tiny body close to his chest. His lips moved silently. Was he praying? Casting a spell. The whole situation was insane.
There were no bright lights or vibrations. She would reflect later, that as miracles went it was pretty unspectacular. No claps of thunder, or chorus of angels. He just handed her son back to her. She looked down on him her mouth agape. She laughed. There was a tinge of mania to that laugh. Stevie just smiled back at her, his eyes wide and searching. His little arms straining against cardigan.
She looked up to see the stranger disappearing down the stairs, his voice trailing after him.
“Like I say love. Some I can’t help. Some I don’t want to. I guess today you got lucky.”
Then he was gone.