by Michelle Abbott
I can do this. I can make it. Wet hair plastered to my head, gasping, I propel myself toward my target. The 136 bus. My heel catches on a crack in the pavement. My ankle twists sideways, sending a sharp pain up my leg. Wincing, I hobble towards the stop, just as the bus closes its doors and pulls away.
“Ahhh,” I scream in frustration.
“Here, use my umbrella.”
His voice startles me. I was so focused on catching the bus, I never noticed him until now. I must have had a serious case of tunnel vision, because he stands out a mile with his cornflower blue, spiky hair. He holds a large, black umbrella out to me.
Leaning against the post of the bus stop, to take the pressure off my throbbing ankle, I shake my head.
“Thank you, but you keep it. I’m already wet, and it would be a shame to ruin your hair.”
He shrugs. “It’s only hair. My umbrella is big enough for two.”
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Is he hitting on me? What’s wrong with the man? He looks twenty-five if he’s a day. I’m twice his age. Old enough to be his mother.
I pick tendrils of damp hair from my forehead.
“I know what you must be thinking, but I’m just trying to do a good turn. You have nothing to fear from me, I promise.” He shelters us both with his umbrella. “You look like you’re having a bad day.”
As I listen to the rain split splat, I lean down to rub my sore ankle.
“Please let me help you.” He slips his arm through mine. “We can sit on that bench. We’ll be able to see the bus coming from there.”
With his assistance, I limp across to the empty, wooden bench that faces the road. “I just missed my bus; the next one won’t be along for an hour.” I sit down, past caring whether I get a wet spot on my skirt. “Are you waiting for a bus?”
He looks so calm, and serene.
“Yes, the 136.”
“Oh no. You didn’t miss it because of me, did you?” I frown.
“I wasn’t running for it.” He gives me a kind smile. “I have all the time in the world.”
A car drives through a puddle, splashing dirty water onto the pavement.
“I’ve got no one to rush home to either.” Maybe it’s his kind smile, maybe I just need to off load. “My husband moved out last week, left me for a woman your age.”
I hope he feels every bit his fifty-four years every second he’s with her.
What has it come to when I’m sitting in a downpour, telling my sob story to a stranger with blue hair? “She’s all form and no substance. If his head was turned that easily, he’s no loss.” I hold out my hand. If I’m telling the poor man my life story, the least I should do is introduce myself. “My name’s Carol.” I look into his ice blue eyes, surprised by the wisdom I see there.
“Do you have children together, Carol?”
I stare at my feet. My heel is scuffed, and my stockings are damp. “Two daughters, they’re both grown-up.”
“Nothing beats a mother’s love for her children.” He reaches into the pocket of his long black coat, and pulls out a pack of mints. “Would you like one?”
We sit in silence, sucking on mints. The sky turns orange as the sun sets. I pull my jacket around me to keep out the chill. Behind us, a shop owner pulls down the metal security shutters of his store.
I’m curious to know more about this man, who claims he has all the time in the world. “It will be late when you get home. Do you have someone, or do you live alone?”
The street lamps come on. I watch the reflection of the light in the puddles.
“I have a loving family.”
In this moment, I feel so alone. Tears mingle with the raindrops on my cheeks. “I’m pregnant.”
The events of last week replay in my mind. Me, feeling sick every morning. Me, looking at the blue line on the pregnancy test. Me, buying a second test that gave me the same result.
“How does something like this happen to a woman my age? I’m going through the menopause; I haven’t had a period in a year. How can I be pregnant? How? Why? Why did this happen when my husband has left me?”
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” He rests his hand on my shoulder.
“That was my mother’s favourite saying.” I wipe my cheeks. “She passed away five years ago.”
He hands me a tissue. “I’m certain she’s watching over you, and that you make her proud.”
“Pregnant at fifty-one.” I blow into the tissue. “I’m sure she’s delighted.” I let out a hollow laugh.
“How old were you when you had your daughters?”
“I was twenty-two when I had Patricia. Diane came along when I was twenty-five.”
“You learn as you go with your first, don’t you?”
For the first time I smile. “Yes, I was clueless. None of the classes prepare you for being a mother. You hold the life of your child in your hands. It’s so much responsibility.” I turn to face him. “Do you have children?”
He shakes his head. “I’m sure you know more about parenting now, than you did then.”
“Yes I do.”
“It’s hard when you’re young isn’t it? You’re trying to make your way up the career ladder. Struggling to save for a home.”
“Those things get easier as you get older, don’t they?”
“Yes they do.” I’m on a good wage. I own a spacious home in a good area.
“You have more time, more understanding, and more patience.”
“And you’re wiser. You know what really matters.”
I let out a laugh. “You make being old sound wonderful.” He really does.
He raises an eyebrow. “Isn’t it?”
I recall my childhood, how I hated having to do as I was told. How I would get upset at the smallest things. I remember my angst filled teenage years, being unhappy with my appearance. The heartbreak when the boys I thought I loved dumped me. I have a vivid memory of how stressful early parenthood was.
I study him. “You’re wise for someone so young.”
The rain has stopped. He collapses his umbrella.
“Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, Carol. A child is a gift. A new start. Someone to love.”
Someone to love. A new start.
I sit up straighter. He’s right. I can do this. I have a nice home, money, and a heart full of love.
“Oh look, here’s your bus.”
Already? Have we been talking for an hour? I glance at my watch. Only twenty minutes have passed. The brakes of the bus screech as it pulls up.
As I root in my purse for my fare, I hear him say, “I’m glad I could help.”
“Let’s sit together.” I glance behind me. “I want to thank...” The words die in my throat. No one is there. I look left and right, but the street is empty. Goosebumps spread across my skin.
“Are you getting on love?” the driver calls.