Commuting by bus had a big advantage in addition to not having to look for a parking space which Elsa never mentioned, in case other people would consider her selfish: It gave her privacy for a while. Between heeding “no cellphones” signs and being surrounded by strangers, she had twice twenty minutes each day to relax, usually without being bothered by anyone.
She had heard of friendships started on the bus, but of the few people she recognised most belonged to the group of punks loitering at the main station. A boy with a hooked nose who changed hair colours more often than his clothes, a girl with the rat riding on her shoulder, and their half-dozen friends, drinking in broad daylight, talking loud enough their voices carried to the office three streets away sometimes, littering, and generally acting as if they owned the world. Some days Elsa carried her briefcase as a shield between herself in her business suit and that crowd, other days she switched it to whichever hand was farthest from them, as if they might snatch it. Only occasionally she even noticed what she was doing, and even more rarely she realised that they had never taken notice of her.
Hyper-aware as she was of their imagined threat, she even noticed a newcomer with her head swimming from a monster of a meeting, frustrated at being mostly ignored by her colleagues. Two hours late, and the last bus of the day gearing up to leave, Elsa hurried through the fry-fat smell of biodiesel behind the bus, and missed her footing on the high curb. There was a crack and a crunch, and she found herself dizzy and on her knees on the platform, suddenly close to tears. Oh god, it’s backed over my briefcase and I skinned my knee like a little girl and it’s all so embarrassing.
She pushed herself up, wiping her hands against each other to get rid of the grit. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the punks staring, and the newcomer, a guy with bright green hair and so many tattoos on his arms there was barely and skin in sight, approached her with long steps.
Looking to the left at the bus, she saw more people staring, and the driver getting out, looking... almost sick. Elsa hoped it wasn’t too obvious that his discomfort made her feel better, less awkward and alone.
“Hello! Are you ready for an adventure?”
The voice made Elsa jump, and when the words registered, she answered the punk with a hostile stare. “Go away.”
He smiled down at her -- what was it with kids these days being so awfully tall? -- and answered, “Sorry, ma’am, just doing my job.”
“Oh, go find someone else to mock. Or an actual job, even better.” Elsa raked a trembling hand through her hair and looked at the ground, left and right. Where had her briefcase ended up?
After a few moments the punk asked gently, “Why haven’t you looked behind you yet?”
The dread this suggestion evoked stopped her breath for a moment. Her voice was a tiny squeak. “I can’t.” She stared at the ground. Old glass shards glittered in the cracks between the cobblestones. A hand rose into her field of vision. Only now she noticed the tattoos on the punk’s arm didn’t consist of abstract swirls of colour, or feature flames and bones and knives, like she had unthinkingly expected. Those sleeves were made up of nothing but butterflies, wing-edge to wing-edge.
“You know what happened.” His voice was soft and sympathetic.
“I’m not... Do I have to?”
“Knowing is better, and seeing helps knowing.”
When she took the offered hand, Elsa finally became aware that the bus driver and a few other people were milling around, but ignoring her completely. She turned and looked over her shoulder, for a glance at her body. The bus had backed up right when she had fallen backwards.
She sighed. “Typical. When you think things are at their worst, something’s going to prove you wrong. I’d expected something like a water pipe or major appliance breaking.” It was a rather feeble attempt at humour, but helped steady her. She was glad for someone to hold her hand, even a rather alarming-looking stranger. “So, what now?” She squelched worries about what this would do to her colleagues and friends, deciding right now it was time to be selfish.
“You need a rest, and a change. A chance to become more yourself.” His warm smile widened a bit, eyes narrowing in amusement. “You seem to be more optimistic in your soul than in your habits, for instance.”
“Or I wouldn’t have pitched forward?”
“Exactly.” He offered his other hand, too, and Elsa took it.
The colours of his tattoos seemed to become even more vivid, the grey concrete and cobbles around them fading to nothing. Elsa felt light and warm, and watched with delight as the world broke into fluttering shards of colour, jewel-bright. Her last giddy thought was that a riot of butterflies was prettier than angel wings.This entry was also posted at http://anke.dreamwidth.org/149462.html. You can comment wherever you prefer.