Noni May has recently graduated from UWA with honours in English. After a brief stint shuffling papers, she plans to travel until her feet ache, take photographs and dance from sundown to sunup.
The acne couple get on a stop after me. She’s in a blue Coles shirt, buttoned over a dirty white singlet; a hole torn in the left seam from stretching it too many times toward her black synthetic pants. Her belly balloons towards me. It’s hard to tell if she’s fat or pregnant. Her face is marred by inflamed pimples; bar-coded greasily across her cheeks, chin, forehead. Too much eyeliner, not enough concealer. Her boyfriend’s in a hoodie, jeans too big for his hips and has that white-boy-pretending-to-be-black attitude. He’s all ‘nigger’ this and ‘bitch’ that. They sit in front of me and squabble about their living arrangements. Her mother yells too much, he hates the cat, and they both want to kick Jerry out. They kiss. A lot. Tongues and lips and teeth mash together in a sticky display of affection. When ugly people find love it makes me wonder why I am alone. Actually it makes me wonder if I am uglier than them.
Traffic jam. Fingers tap. Feet shuffle. Everyone is groaning collectively. A disgruntled orchestra, a symphony of sighs.
I’ve not brought a book.
Death by boredom seems imminent.
I spend my time looking through a graffiti-scratched window. Someone named ‘DAZARRR’ has autographed my view. Outside cars line up impatiently, push together, will each other on, united by the shared need to get the fuck out of here. It starts to rain. Fat drops pelt bonnets, windscreens, pavements and pedestrians. On the median strip there’s a man in a brilliant blue jumpsuit. His skin crinkles around his eyes, his dark hair flecked with silver. His broad shoulders hunch against the rough weather. The jumpsuit is tight around his portly middle. Each foot is enclosed by a worn-out boot, jewelled with cement, scuffed beyond repair. On his back, hand-written in black texta, are the words ‘BIG BOY’. The letters are bulky, childish – a tribute to whoever wrote them. I chuckle, momentarily including myself in the joke. The man skips across the road, weaves through the waiting cars, and makes his way out of sight.
Two girls behind me are having a conversation about music. Both clad in skinny jeans and cardigans. Their dark eyes peer out from beneath asymmetrical fringes. Grunge-chic. I’m pretty sure they paid a designer an obscene amount of money to tear the holes in their jeans. The names of obscure bands are splayed across their flat chests.
One says: ‘Lately I’ve had this real aversion to all of the Kings of Leon’s new stuff.’
The other: ‘Well, thanks for jumping on my bandwagon.’
They talk loudly and assuredly for the entire journey about their boyfriends, their parents, their imported shoes, their apathy, blah, blah, blah, blah.
‘My mother is just soooo Machiavellian.’
‘I’m facing such a conundrum with Jake.’
‘The whole situation is just so horribly mundane.’
The man in front of me just picked his nose, inspected his find and wiped it on the seat next to him. Holy crap. How many boogers am I sitting on?
Next to me a corporate skirt fiddles with her shiny mobile phone. Her manicured fingers punch out a text message. Moments later her phone buzzes, flashing to a metallic rendition of “Single Ladies”.
She answers, ‘Hi babes! Out tonight? Yeah I’m so up for it. Got to snag me a husband before I turn thirty.’
Womanhood is not all menstruating and tea parties. There’s the added pressure of not turning into the bitter-spinster-catlady. Her ringless hand plays with a curl of shiny blonde hair.
‘Jules wants to come too. I know. I know. Oh my god she didn’t! Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! Seriously? Oh my god. Babes! Yeah.’
Still on her phone she presses the bell, stands, straightens her pencil skirt, then glides down the aisle towards the doors.
The smell of sweat mingled with alcohol catches in my throat. I take the risk, and look up from my shoes to examine the source. He stands at the front, dealing his coins one by one to the driver. He might have stepped straight out of the 1940s, with one hand on his tan hat, the other hand in the pocket of his high-waisted khaki pants, fiddling with a silver lighter.
Dirt has worked its way into the creases of his skin. The lines on his face, his neck, his hands and his arms all patterned by the same layer of grime. A beard prickles around his mouth.
He lowers himself onto the seat, his knees crumbling underneath him. His jaw clenches shut in an attempt to contain the cough rattling monstrously inside his chest. From inside his coat he pulls a grey-coloured handkerchief and splutters unendingly into it. He spits a lump of phlegm onto the floor. His handkerchief painted red.
A young girl sits at the front, facing the rest of us. Her pink iPod jacked into both her ears. She sings along to the trashy pop pumping through her headphones. With every high note, her right hand flicks up to indicate just how high it is. I didn’t realise my seventy-seven cent ticket included a show. Her hair is backcombed to infinity. Pretty sure there is a whole can of hairspray involved in that process. She closes her eyes and reaches for another high note. Can’t wait to see her on the next Australian Idol.
Behind the driver, in the priority seating, a mum bounces a toddler on her knees. He’s all hair and eyes. He waves his hands about the place, desperate to touch everything, identify everything. He twists and turns in her lap, but never quite escapes her grip.
And then, he sees the window.
And then, he sees through the window.
Jesus, he must be thinking, look at the size of it.
The world stretches out in front of him, zooms by. He presses his nose wilfully onto the glass keeping him separate.
The world outside feels like ice cubes.
The world outside sounds like nap time.
The world outside looks like the cranky cat.
The world outside smells like grandpa’s feet.
The toddler sticks out his tongue and licks the filthy pane of glass. His mother, germ radar blaring, rips him back from the window and locks him onto her lap. The boy shouts, small fists hitting at her arms.
The world outside tastes like something mum hates.
He has to have it.
I noticed her get on. Tall. Legs for days. Slender and beautiful. Her hair a glossy and wavy mass. I’m all shabby in comparison. She’s chatting on the phone.
‘I didn’t mean to sleep with him. I just get so horny the day after my period.’ Her laugh rings out musically. ‘Well it’s true.’
She picks at the fluff on her brown cardigan, and then inspects the state of her skirt. I can’t fathom the geometrics of her shoes.
Two uni students sit across from me, talking about their weekend.
‘She barely even acknowledged I was there. She just spent the whole night twittering around all the boys on her stupid high heels.’
‘Well, she’s a proper social butterfly, isn’t she?’
‘She’s a proper social fuckwit.’
He laughed at her anger, before saying, ‘I’m not making excuses for her – she is being a shit lately.’
‘It’s just, we were a unit. You know?’
‘Yeah, we were a unit Chelsea.’
She brooded for the rest of the journey, sighing. The bell tolls. They stand to leave. He never takes his eyes off her.
Sardines today. Everyone crushed into this tin can. Forced to press against strangers as we turn corners. Next to me a punk scowls. Forty degrees and he’s in black. Boots clad his feet, rise to his shins. Sweat is beading on his brow and upper lip. His hair is purple and orange, spiked and likely to take out the eye of the gentleman behind him. Tattoos of skulls and butterflies wrap around his arm, crawl up his neck, probably across his chest. Silver lodged in the holes through his lips, his ears, his nose, his eyebrows. Someone stands to get off, leaving the seat next to us free. Eye contact.
‘It’s all yours’ he tells me.
Outside, a man waits with one hand resting on a guitar case. His suit is brown. His tie is thin. His moustache is thick. It droops over his upper lip; a handlebar, a horse shoe, an achievement. He sees me and smiles. I look away. We drive off.
I wish I’d smiled back.
Twins. Speaking in a language I do not understand. Filipino perhaps? Mid forties. Identical. Both wear the same fleecy jumpers, the same khaki pants, the same worn joggers. Both have the same spiky black hair, parted dead centre. Both wear wire-rimmed glasses.
It would be nice to always have yourself for company.
At the front, a girl sits facing me. Her hair is short, coarse, peroxide stained. Her shoulders broad, emphasised by her large green army coat, the collar stiff, buttoned up to her chin. Eyeliner has smudged underneath her eyes. It makes her look tired, rough, cheap, in some permanent state of hangover. Her skin is sallow. She riffles through her hemp bag, pulls out a large pear, turns it in her hand, sinks her teeth in and tears away a large chunk of flesh. Flecks of juice spray out. Her chin glistens. She looks up. Her eyes prowl the bus. She sees me seeing her. Our eyes meet and a moment, a second, a lifetime, an instant passes before I look away. Caught out. I shift uncomfortably in my seat and – oh God, I can feel myself start to blush. I don’t know what to do with my hands. They hide in my lap but then leap to smooth my hair, scratch my arm, fiddle with my blouse. I glance back. Her eyes are still locked on me. I shift my gaze out the window, try looking nonchalant. I can feel her scrutinise my every move. She’s still looking at me when she takes a second bite out of the pear. She lingers. Her teeth tearing orgasmically at the flesh, tongue lapping up the dripping juices.
Her smudged eyes always on me.