Here be dragons – On the Night bus – 15

It is the scale of this city that terrifies her, everything is simply too much, too large, too loud.

Lost on a daily, hourly basis, she buys a little book of street maps and carefully, painstakingly, she draws a line between home and the office she travels to every day. Plans her route and remembering Year 8 geography, she chooses a colour – shocking pink, and goes over the faint pencil line, giving a neon excitement to this daily task and then, using her bank card in place of a ruler, draws a little key box, a gash of pink within it and the code – “route to work”.

This is the only journey she dares to take and is reduced to food shopping in Marks and Spencers, the only grocery shop, whose signage she recognises.
The cat is delighted and embraces gourmet cat food, she stares in disbelief at 2 perfect jacket potatoes, already sliced and filled with grated cheese and instead fill up on sell by date bread and victoria sponges.

One Thursday, 2 weeks after her move to the big city and greatly daring, she tries a left and left and left combo, adds another square of walking onto her journey and discovers a cut price supermarket and a little street market.

A home she carefully colors in this new discovery, a line of cheerful leaf green and in the key “food shopping”

The pink and green lines follow each other on the street map, separate out and then come together for the final 15 minutes home.

Whenever she feels overwhelmed by issues of scale, she runs her forefinger along the routes, her routes and feel comforted.

She thinks about the maps she has drawn, her village, a straight line, the road that ends at the sea, a green box for the pub, yellow for the Spar shop, grey little lines for the 20 houses that make up the 2 roads that are not the in/out road.

The crofts, a blank triangle to represent the hills and then neatly ruled squares, no addresses, just a name, crofter, school friend.

Her school, 43 pupils, 3 classrooms, a playground that runs down to the beach. She drew each of the children, represented them as a circle and took care to place them realistically, accurately within the plan of the school itself.

A week later, she makes another discovery, right, and right and right take her to a swimming pool,a pet shop and a tiny park, this line is colored blue – “swimming and cat treats”

She considers swimming in the pool, it is large, noisy and always full.
The sea at home is cold, but as children they became used to it and as she grew older she learnt to love the physical shock, body wincing as the water hits the stomach and that breath taking moment of total immersion.

She is not sure if the pool will recreate this.

She begins to relax a little, her map book starts to look busy, three routes, all day to day needs dealt with, there is no need to learn more, not yet.

She begins to talk to her new colleagues and tries not to show her puzzlement when they talk about “going into town”, surely a place with supermarkets, Cafe Nero, swimming pools and a pet shop is town.

She agrees to go downtown and their journey takes her far beyond the pink, green, blue threads that keep her safe, bind her to this neighborhood, without their familiar patterns, well trodden routes she feels lost, spins in unknowable geography.

But, it is downtown where she meets the night buses and where she confounds her colleagues with her ability to drink them all under the table. A skill honed in a place where it is dark at 3 pm in winter and the cinema visits once a month in the back of a coach.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches how these girls navigate the streets, fill the pavements with noise and presence, she, gathers a little of what they have and moves out a little, not hugging the buildings anymore.

But, the night bus station is somehow magical, all these buses, with place names she has never heard, doesn’t recognize and all heading out, into the night, into the darkness.

When she finally gets home that night, she draws another line into her map book, a black line and labels it in careful printing, her best handwriting “The way home”

She lies awake for a long time, her finger tracing the route the bus had taken.

It is almost as comforting as the noise of sea on shingle on the shore behind the 20 grey houses on the two roads that are not the in/out road.



About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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