By Alex Townley
HE looks at me sometimes, on the bus on the way home from school. He’s with his mates, so he doesn’t say anything.
Sometimes I look at him and he blanks me though, so I don’t know. Does that mean anything?
My mates fill the bus up with noise, like a cloud of it ringing in your ears, and sometimes I like that. Most of the time.
It’s a laugh, obviously, but it’s more than that. It’s like we’re family, all there together.
But sometimes I stare out of the window, at the reflections, back into the bus, and I pretend I’m outside it all, and they’re just this annoying hum of sound you can’t escape.
His mates are quieter. I think because they’re older. They chat and that, but they don’t scream.
I catch them judging us, a sideways look or a comment, and my mates might laugh if I told them, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to stir things up.
And I like that I notice and they don’t. It’s my secret.
I like his hands.
He holds onto the post attached to his seat for the last bit before his stop, and his hands are like a pencil sketch, a good one. Everything stands out. There’s dirt at the bottom of his fingernails, or oil or something, but none under his nails.
Maybe he’s a mechanic. I’d like to know if they’re rough or smooth, those hands. Warm or cold.
I think he knows I’d like that. Something in those looks he gives me.
At school the teachers say I’m a mature member of the class. I think it’s because I’m quiet and everyone else isn’t. That or they don’t know anything else about me. Get it out of a book of clichés for school reports.
I wonder if he’d think I was mature.
He gets off on the corner of Smithfield Street, by the indoor market. I’ve watched him walking away from the bus, and he cuts through the building, even though it’s closed by the time we get there.
One stop after my mates, one stop before me. I dream of following him.
I like the way he looks at me, like he sees past the uniform. That sounds dirty, but I still kind’ve mean it.
My nan says I’m maturing, blossoming. That sounds dirty too sometimes.
I think he sees that in me. Because I know how to make myself look pretty even at school. I know how to wear lipstick so it’s not too much. We duck into the toilets after the register, my mates and me, make-up bags out, foundation on, eye shadow, blusher, mascara, not too much, not for the school day, but there’s another stop on the way out, before we catch the bus, and then sometimes you can try something new, and I know I look good. I know he sees that.
Mum won’t buy me make-up, but that’s never been a problem. That’s the sort of thing Dad loves, like he can use it as a weapon against her, so when I’m staying at his I drop these hints about the stuff she says is inappropriate, and he buys me all sorts.
I think he thinks he’s scoring points off her, but the joke’s on him. There’s no chance I’m telling her about any of it. She thinks I’m still a little girl.
Only takes a wet wipe before I walk home from the bus stop.
It all stays in the box under my bed, all the clothes and the make-up and my kit with the razor blades and the antiseptic.
Not that I use that anymore, not now. I’ve grown out of all that.
I just used to like to watch it bead, blossom, spread, and then stop. Like I was the one letting it out. I was in control.
These days I don’t need to bother with it. I’m mature now.
I wait until his stop comes up and he steps down from the bus.
He walks, head down along Smithfield Street.
The bus pulls away with me still on it / The bus pulls away leaving me on the pavement.
I lean my head against the window and close my eyes / I follow him, matching his long slow strides with quick steps of my own.
An old woman sneezes into her bare hand and wipes it on the seat / He disappears into the empty market and so do I.
I close my eyes and press against the cool of the windowglass / In the market, he turns around and sees me, his eyebrows quirk, his deep brown eyes staring into me, and he starts to walk toward me, not speaking, not smiling. And I wait for him to come to me, hold me, finally notice me.
I reckon he knows on some level. That I’ve got my shit together, that I’m better than the rest. He sees me blossoming.
I wipe the makeup from my face and tie my hair up into a tight ponytail, for Mum. I’m still who she wants me to be, for now. For here.
And in the quiet of my room, I can feel his hands on me still.
I’m the one in control.
© Alex Townley 2016