L was smiling. Spending time with her was effortless – easy as breathing – increasingly just as essential… On the way back, he was the only passenger on the small bus. He knew the driver who simply waved him on. That was another couple of pounds saved for Rockness.
The sixteen mile journey passed in laughter. L, an audience of one: the driver embellishing tales with layers of outrageous detail; L rewarding him with laughter.
The small bus springs rattled and the chassis took each bend of the country road lurching as though headed for the deep field ditches lining the roadside. L’s neck hurt and teeth were jarred from the shaking of old bus on bumpy bending road.
As the bus approached the terminus L readied himself for the 2 mile walk home, adjusting his scarf, digging his gloves from his pocket. He thought about the jumper he’d refused when Mum had held it out. It was snowing. The icy road was quickly disappearing. It would be a chill walk and he resolved to run.
Jumping down; shouting ‘Night’ to the driver – he started across the wide sweeping arc of the bus bay, heading towards the chippie. A bag of chips would harm his hands and belly.
Head down against the falling snow he pushed on. He could hear muffled shouts through the thick scarf but didn’t want to slow down. He increased his pace. Another 200 yds and he’d be at the counter. He could smell the chip fat and vinegar in the cold air.
It was then that his arm was yanked back. He swung round, ready to fight. Blood pounding in his ears. Fists clenching.
He was face-to-face with a woman. She was shouting into his face. Urgent commands. She needed help; there was a man collapsed and unconscious; he had to help.
L looked around. The street was deserted but for the bus and from the short distance he’d covered he could make out the driver changing the destination display to ‘sorry out of service’. Peering through the snow in the opposite direction from the bus, he could make out a dark shape at the far end of the terminus, straddling the kerb and pavement. He started to run with the woman, not clear as to what he was going to find or how he could help. But he followed her, driven by the anxiety in her voice and face.
The man was face down in the snow. Already he was merging into the whiteness, beginning to disappear. The woman’s hysterical crying cut through L’s bewilderment. Shouting at her to phone for an ambulance; to go get the bus driver, he stooped to feel for a pulse. He cursed his gloved fingers and threw the gloves from him. He pushed his fingers against the man’s neck, recoiling at the surprise of vomit. Certain that he could feel a pulse he started to speak to the body; struggled to recall the recovery position from school lessons and began to haul the inert weight onto its side. The man groaned. His free arm began to punch out. L kept up the chatter. He was aware of a sudden calm and sureness. Blood from the man’s face stained the snow red. Orange vomit formed a sticky layer beneath and around him. L checked the blood source – a deep forehead and left cheek gash – and searched for the tissue in his pocket to press it against the wound.
The bus driver joined him. Together they held the man; attempting to calm him; covering him with L’s thin jacket.
When the paramedics arrived L’s teeth were chattering and his hands blue. It had taken them 40 minutes from the initial call-out to arrive. L and the bus driver moved away to let them take over. Then the police arrived.
L gave a brief statement. He was still jacketless. The young policewoman noticed his nakedness and covered him with a flourescent coat – until he recovered his own jacket, which had been discarded by the paramedics.
When his credit-less phone rang it took him too long to recognise the ringtone. Looking at his missed call he could see it had been Mum and for the first time he realised it was late – he was late – very late.
He listened to her anxious reproachful message and sighed. It was time to go home.