Call it habit, call it obsession, but as soon as I hit the bend, I’m readying myself for the bus stop. Although for weeks there’s been no-one but chubby-armed women off late-night shopping, my gaze drifts to the shelter, and I hold my breath until I pick out the shape of a girl.
I slam the brake and pull into the lay-by. I lower the window and lean across, unhooking my seatbelt and smiling. My soothing fatherly smile.
The girl stares beyond the car to the turn in the road. Her brown hair is dyed red at the tips and her faded jeans are fashionably torn at the knees. By her feet, a bulging backpack displays the badges of her travels. I could speculate, by virtue of what’s missing, where her journey began.
She hesitates when I call her over, but she’s too polite to pretend she hasn’t heard. Polite, yet not lacking in assertion, challenging me on the accuracy of the timetable, inclining her head towards the slim noticeboard with its promise of a ride into town. Her confidence clues social class more than nationality; for her, every problem has a solution, and fear spells, not danger, but adventure and fun.
“The service can be erratic,” I tell her. “Hop in. I’ll give you a lift.”
“No thank you. I will wait the bus.” How she speaks, her errors are an embellishment, like the rips in her jeans.
“Could be another hour. Might not come tonight at all.”
“I will take my chance.”
“Okay.” I go to turn the key in the ignition. Slip it out again and open the passenger door. “Listen, it’ll be dark shortly. I don’t like to think of you waiting all alone.”
She frowns, scans the road in both directions. She’s uneasy, and impatient at her own unease. She’ll have known, from early childhood, never to get into a car with a strange man.
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