Sarah manoeuvred herself into a corner, settling her hips against the handrails, her shoulder against the window, and got out the book she had started to read the night before. She should just have time to finish a chapter before the bus reached her stop.
From now on she would do things her way. She had dressed carefully this morning in her new, tailored clothes; slipping on her thin soled, impractical but smart shoes. She had already decided to buy a coffee to go from Starbucks despite the unnecessary cost. She would reinvent herself in the image of her choosing, live for the moment, allow herself to finally discover what made her happy. A new day and a new start, she could do this.
The old man tapped persistently on her arm and indicated to the seat on his left. ‘You have it dear’ he said. He smiled and waited for her to sit down before wobbling forward to cling to an upright bar, a satisfied look on his face. He was seventy if he was a day.
Sarah sat down on the still warm seat, the pleasurable anticipation of her day gone like a balloon blown into a thorn bush. How had she let this happen? This was the first day of her new, independent life; a life that she had determined to live free from the impossible demands of men.
First her father, then her brother and finally her husband; all had dictated the terms under which she should be aiming to live her life. Where had it left her? She was alone now, mourning the stillborn son her husband had not wanted until he had held the tiny, inert form in his arms. Then it had been her fault because she had refused to leave her job as early as she could; because she had not wished to let her colleagues down.
Always she had lived to please others, never herself. It had cost her everything.
Harold noticed that the young woman looked tired. He remembered how his late wife had struggled when she was expecting their first child. Those early months had been more draining than the later ones when she had blossomed before his eyes, the joy of expectation overriding her aches and discomfort. Perhaps this young woman felt ill all the time too.
When she had boarded the bus he had looked around and noted the heads buried in books or staring into nothingness as ears were accosted by sounds from plugged in buds. Harold had been pleased to find a vacant seat for himself but he could not sit while this young lady stood. Times may have changed but he knew that a weary mother-to-be would still be grateful for a little understanding. A gentleman should be chivalrous, whatever his age. Harold stood up.
She had given him the strangest look when he had spoken to her but thanked him anyway and taken the seat offered. Pleased with his sacrifice Harold moved forward through the crowds, wondering to himself if it was the unexpectedness of his good manners that had surprised her. He did not understand how young people were brought up these days. Their apparent selfishness appalled him.
The old man meant well, she knew that. Yet, in offering kindness and consideration he had reminded her that she was regarded as weak and dependant. He had shown up her need to conform to expectation rather than stand up for her own desires. She hated herself anew.
Sarah watched as the old man rang the bell and carefully alighted the bus. He had turned around, smiled at her and touched his forehead before he left. She knew that she should feel gratitude but could not quell the despair that his actions had wrought.
She did not leave the bus, even when it got into town. Instead she bought a ticket for home. Her boss had told her that it was too soon for her to return, that she needed more time to mourn. Once again, she would allow him to be right.