Her body suddenly pushed up against me as she took her place in the empty seat and the gentle nudge made me open my eyes.
I’ve grown accustomed to spending some of my morning and afternoon commute, eyes closed, in prayerful thought about the people and tasks of the day ahead – or the day behind. The discipline inevitably breaks down on the homeward journey as I fall into a light sleep, enjoying fleeting and outrageously strange dreams, my ears still somehow attuned to the call of the approaching stops. The mornings, though, are different: alert from breakfast and a good night of sleep, I can focus.
Her partner, or friend, had taken the sideways seat ahead of us and, once settled, they continued their conversation. I closed my eyes again and leaned further into the window.
A heavy West London accent. Rough, crude, bad grammar and diction. Uneducated and poor, was my guess. But also sad and desperate. The timbre of her voice, the tremble of emotion, was impossible to ignore.
She reviewed an abusive and broken relationship, a needy child, an unfinished education and chronic unemployment. She was already deeply in debt. How was she going to make it to the end of September?
I thought of my own daughters, of a similar age. How would I feel if they were dealing with these pressures? How is it that I and my family have been so blessed?
“Maybe I can find something near Sophie’s school,” she continued, “drop her off before work; some place I can walk to from home.” A pause followed, as they both took in what she just said.
“Who am I kiddin’? Who’s going to hire me anyway?”
There was a long silence, the hum of the bus filling the void.
A tear crept to the edge of my eye, threatening to run down my cheek.
“Are you alright?” said a man’s voice, hesitating, timid. It was her friend.
I started, opening my eyes again, embarrassed that my emotion had caught me out.
But no. He was looking at her, concern flooding his face as she sat silently sobbing into her hands.