The Night Bus

The seat was cramped and icy air rattled through the top floor windows. There was never a comfortable medium, either sweat or goosebumps graced her flesh. This wasn’t the first time she’d caught the night bus, it was the third time this week. Nor would she be the last person to curl up on the backseat seeking refuge. One of the perks of living in London; anything was available, no matter what the hour.
The one thing she needed had eluded her. Another day spent with bright-eyed estate agents, and the wake of vultures that followed, skulking around properties to snap up the scraps. Today she’d seen a shed, a literal shed with a bed, masquerading as a private, luxurious living space. After that, she’d had to perform a complicated dance manoeuvre around a landlord who had been trying to trap her in a bedroom. It had been touch and go as she’d politely eased her way out of the front door. The unease that had followed had persuaded her to call the police, concerned for the other girls living there.
It wasn’t that she was homeless, it was just that she was without a permanent fixed abode. London had swallowed her. It was a setback, a necessary evil. One minute she’d had somewhere to live and the next it had been gone. Now everything she owned was in a large suitcase tucked behind her on the bus seat. As they shuddered to a halt she tried to close her eyes, resting her cheek against the coarse fabric.
Dreams had brought her here, they held her captive. Photoshoots with Elle and the London College of Fashion seemed as distant as her hometown now. Once she had been told that she was destined for great things, perhaps they’d glossed over the part where she slept on a bus. By now she could spot the others living in the same way, offering them a brief nod in the early hours as they emerged from their buses, suitcases in tow. Tomorrow would be a better day, tomorrow she’d find somewhere to rent.
As she started to doze her mind conjured images of Doris Payne. She’d written to her once on a whim, to ask her about her life. To find out how she had become one of the world’s most notorious diamond thieves. Doris had replied, perhaps prison life was slow or perhaps she just found it fun to share her story. In her imagination Doris was young again, dressed head to toe in her finest clothing as she perused the streets of Monte Carlo. Who could resist 10 carats of pure luxury? So she’d taken it and tried to flee to France…
Thoughts were jarred as the strong scent of alcohol roused her, a man slumping 3 seats down, a brown paper bag in hand, no doubt full of some spirit that was rotting his gut. An old West End tune slurred from his lips, perhaps thinking of better times. Usually, such encounters were harmless, drawled words of long lost love, the depths of a soul and a query about the availability of a lighter. Sometimes such encounters were not harmless.
Deciding to err on the side of caution this time, she stood, pulling her life in her wake. The sound of the bell pierced the ambiance, a collective eyebrow lifted as she shuffled forwards, not even sure what stop they’d reached or when the next bus would arrive.
The doors opened, cold wind sweeping inside, without a pause she stepped out into darkness.

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