You were on my bus. I didn’t notice you, at first.
Through the window, there was rain, cars, a smear of trees. Each wet day the patterns are almost the same, grey and green, dissolving. And watching the pavement melt into the leaves, I felt that pinch, that small longing, like I always do.
Your perfume found me first. A smoky-brown scent, patchouli hints, resurrecting memories of park benches and my own growing up, of shop-brand cola, generously spiked. Nonetheless, for a moment still, I kept my forehead to the glass.
It was the sound of you that made me turn. From across the aisle, you jangled. And then you sparkled, and I wondered.
I studied your earrings first. A matching, flamboyant pair. Dangling loops of shivering gold, with wooden animals attached. Camels or llamas, maybe cats. Souvenirs, I thought, from somewhere exotic, Morocco or Kenya or further East. Those earrings spoke of holidays, of escape, or perhaps merely of hoping. A desire to be gone.
There was a single metal ear-cuff too, on your left side, clipped higher, catching stray hair. That might have been when I thought of ballpoint pens. Of pinning you in place.
There were two strings around your neck. The first a set of love-beads, multi-coloured seeds that drip-drip-dripped between your woollen breasts, bright as the candy necklaces we’d fight over as little girls. Pinging elastic in search of treasure, chasing summer flavours, pastel dust.
The second string was tighter. A black leather lace, suggestive of a noose, or dog-tags. Maybe even a lead. Perhaps a gift – did he like to see it there? There was a pendant attached, stone-like, bone-like; I couldn’t read the words it bore (if words they were), but its shadow was distinct. A second secret message smudged red against your skin.
In your lap, your folded fingers. Your hands revealed a single ring, and the space where one once was.
The ring was gold, with a green stone, shining with a broken, antique light. An heirloom, surely, passed down from some austere aunt, or a shadowy grandma . . . Unless it had simply belonged to your mother? I wondered how frequently you felt its weight. How much you might still miss her.
And that paler strip of skin on the third finger of your left hand; it betrayed you so that I hardly needed to guess. Except – instead of looking stripped bare, that fine line glowed, a milky glimmer. It looked younger than the rest of you. A thread of newborn flesh.
You lifted that hand then, to the pole. Already, it was your stop.
The bus bell buzzed, but I hardly heard it. I was distracted, freshly captivated, charmed by the charms about your wrist, those tiny, flickering trinkets. I wasn’t close enough to see them; nonetheless, I did my best. I pictured a silver figure and a glinting guppy, a perfect doll’s house clock. You chimed – jangling once more – as you heaved yourself upright.
I could have cried out as you rose; your bracelet sang, but you only sighed. And you remained mostly faceless, shapeless; I’d hardly started – I didn’t want to let you go.