It was Caroles’ idea really, when we all sat round the table one Sunday, everyone ignoring the empty place and her mother and I equally ignoring exactly how little Carole ate and how quickly her wine glass emptied and was re-filled.
Her tone was fast, persuasive, trying to convincer herself as well as us
“It makes sense” she said ” She loves dancing, clubbing, staying up late, she’s bound to catch those buses sometime or know people who catch them and besides”, she pauses, looks directly at me ” It will be safer, easier…..” there is another pause “Easier than walking the streets” and I know that she is remembering those first few desperate weeks when we walked, Kings Cross, Charing Cross, Eros, Soho, showing her Yr 11 school photo to anyone who would look.
It wasn’t the children that got to me, not really, it was the other adults, sensibly dressed in M&S fleeces, clutching their photos, their flyers, tracing the same routes, a small army of seekers.
I don’t know what Carole felt, we didn’t talk about feelings, kept focussed on tasks, lists, new ideas.
One night, 6 weeks after Jamine vanished, Derek and I went to the pub, sat, mostly in silence while he shredded beer mats into tiny pieces of lager fumed confetti and then he blurted out that Carole had moved out of their bedroom, was sleeping in Jasmines’ room and he didn’t know what to do and then we both sat in silence again and I bought us double whiskies and it helped, a bit.
So, we started making the trek into central London, Carole had done her homework, it reminded me of when she was revising for her O levels, colored revision charts on her bedroom wall, special exam pencil case and a plan, Caroles’ always had a plan and even now, when anyone else would fall apart, Carole has made another plan and just like when she was young, we are all part of it.
It was Carole who worked out the routes, found the most likely buses, Brixton, Hoxton, Spitafields, Camden, Soho, West End, plotted the best stops, the ones clustered around night clubs, trendy bars. She clung to the image of Jasmine, all dressed up on a Saturday night, off to the clubs in Leicester, her and her dizzy friends, laughingly trying to persuade Carole to come with them, offering to lend her clothes, make up.
“That’s what really hurts” said Carole, one afternoon when we were sitting, me, her mum and Carole, planning another night bus run ” There was nothing wrong, no signs, no warnings, nothing”, but one Friday, 9 months ago, Jasmine packed a bag, sent a text to her dad, not Carole, not her mum, saying she was going to visit friends in London for a few days and she would be back.
Except she wasn’t.
And we watched, her mum and me, we watched Carole move from annoyance to anger to fear to a terrible dread and then to frenzy, constant calls, texts, facebook, twitter and of course, the police.
And still Jasmine didn’t come home.
But now, we have the night bus project, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, midnight until 4, choose a route, pick up the flyers and off, it wasn’t what i was planning for my retirement and I look at Jeans’ face sometimes – pale, features pinched and I wonder how long we can do this for, but for now Carole is pushing us on, keeping everything up in the air.
The night bus was a new world to me, well to me and Jean both really. I think we had both forgotten that people were up that late, were so loud and so busy. At first we were a bit timid, but Carole just steam rollered on, made brave by desperation and we trailed in her wake, handed out flyers, talked to the not too drunk, not too mad, tried to make strangers care about someone they had never met.