She was just a little in front of him, to one side. Part of her was in the sun, and partly shaded by the roof of the bus stop. Her pale hair lay close to her head, and flowed down her back, past her shoulders, almost like a close fitting cloak, or a silk head scarf left loose. Her dress reached below her heels, he caught a glimpse of very high heels encasing a slender ankle.
Suddenly becoming aware he was staring, he looked away. Someone bumped into him from behind and he moved a little to his right, closing the space between him and her. The bus to Sydney still had his doors closed, and the queue behind him was getting longer. People were murmuring amongst themselves , milling around in the purposeful way that people do in queues. He shuffled a little to avoid bumping into the couple behind him, and caught a whiff of a fresh breeze. Surprised, he looked around, yes there was a breeze, and it had suddenly turned very cool. She was very close to him now. Still standing there quietly, with her gaze fixed at mid distance, head slightly bowed. A single strand of her hair lifted in the fresh breeze and he caught another whiff. As soon as he tried to put a name to the fragrance, he could not smell it anymore.
He shook his head. He looked down at his laptop bag at his feet and then at the portfolio in his hand. He wondered whether he should take out his notes and go through them again. Everything depended on his presentation today.
He jumped. The voice was very quiet. Very still, like a drop of water falling noiselessly into a deep lake. He could not tell from where it had come. The couple behind him were talking in low voices amongst themselves in a foreign language. They sounded very intense. Not like the still, quiet voice he had heard. She had turned a little towards him, her head lifted, and tilted away from him. As he glanced at her, she looked into his eyes, then looked away to the mid distance again. Her eyes were the colour of liquid light. He was being fanciful. Surely her eyes were not such a light shade of golden? No. It must have been the light from the sun.
His heart was not racing any more. It felt strangely contained. For weeks now he had been living on unadulterated adrenalin. He had forced himself to sleep the last couple of nights, getting some calming tablets from his sister who was a Naturopath.
“ I want to be able to sleep, but don’t give me any thing that will make me groggy.”
“Look. Either you trust me or you get going. I have no time to spend on your distrust.”
“I don’t want to be a Zombie.”
His brother-in-law had intervened. “Leave him alone. You know this is a big deal. Just give him something so he can rest and still be thinking well on Wednesday.”
He had slept. But even in his sleep the swoosh swoosh of his own blood had deafened him.
Right now, though, he could hardly hear his heart. No Thrum Thrum of a racing ticker. No Swoosh Swoosh of frenzied blood.
He tickled his laptop bag with his foot. Had he missed any possible questions? What else could be asked of him?
“You have the answer.”
What? Who had spoken? That quiet voice again, that voice that was neither loud nor soft. Neither of his mind nor of the outside world. Golly! He was going to kill his sister!! He was delusional!!! His heart beat jumped up again and small beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. He could not bungle today!
She stirred. Flicking back her hair with both hands, like one would move the hood of a cloak aside, she looked up at the sun, exposing her throat to his view. She blew a long breath out, and then looked around. Then, as if aware that he was staring, she turned and looked at him. Her face was expressionless. No. Was it? Was it a calm expression? Or a confident one? Was she about to say something?
He nearly opened his mouth to ask her… what? Before he properly knew what he had been about to do, she had turned away. The bus driver was asking her name and checking it on the list. She pointed it out, and was given a seat number. He heard her say softly, “thank you”, and then she disappeared into the bus. She had no luggage. He forgot to be nervous.
He was in the bus next, and spotted her walking down the aisle looking at the numbers on the seats. He found his seat and sat down. A moment later she was standing next to him again and looking at the seat number on the seat next to his. She slipped into it. Was she stalking him?
This time seriously startled, he glanced at her. She had just finished examining the seat belt, and was fastening it. He noticed how long her fingers were, how pale the wrist, and how delicate her movements. Gracious! Was he stalking her?
She leaned back and closed her eyes. Her eyelashes very long, sweeping her cheekbones. He wondered how old she was. It was impossible to tell. Her skin was taut, nary a wrinkle in sight, but she had none of that petal fresh bloom of a teenager. She was definitely past her twenties, but then how much past that? Once he got to thirty, and above, he could not place her in a bracket . She could be any age, but was definitely not a teenager. What did it matter, anyway?
He now wished he had not placed the laptop on the shelf above his head. What if it shifted and fell?
He turned to her and asked her if she could please step into the aisle so he could get his laptop. She unbuckled her seatbelt, stood up in a fluid movement, and before he could stand, had reached up, and fetched the laptop bag down and handed it to him. He smiled and thanked her, and placed the laptop bag on his lap, under his portfolio. She nodded, and murmured something he could not catch. She was already busy putting on her seatbelt, seemingly fascinated with it. She was soon leaning back, eyes closed and palms crossed on her lap. She looked like a painting, almost ethereal.
He noticed that the bus was already on its way. He had missed the small speech about the toilet facilities, the reminder not to use or abuse drugs and alcohol while on the bus, and that the law dictated that the seatbelts must be fastened.
He could smell her perfume now. Fresh. It smelled of the forest. And reminded him of cool breezes in the dappled sunlight. Of deer and squirrels and possums in a fairy tale setting.
He knew where that came from. It was himself. He was being unusually fanciful. He shook his head again to clear his thoughts. They strayed back to the meeting scheduled for later today. His fingers started drumming on his portfolio. It made a loud jarring noise even to his own ears.
A soft whistling sound came to his ears. His heart stirred. He remembered the tune. This was a memory. He was not going mad. It was his uncle, his father’s older brother. His uncle would whistle popular and famous classical tunes, while he worked on his latest building project. He would sit hidden in the back, behind the boxes working on his own projects. His uncle never bothered him with questions or advice. His uncle did not even mind those times when he broke stuff, or set fire to things as he tried out experiments. He smiled. His uncle had trusted him.
“Mark my words. Your son will do something wonderful, and you will be left gaping.”
Today could be the day when his uncle’s prediction would come true. Suddenly he felt that it was possible. It was possible that his proposition would be the one selected. It was possible that they would see its potential.
“Of course, it is possible.” Yes. That was himself too, he thought, feeling a smile on his face. His fingers were no longer beating out a Morse code of exhaustion and anxiety. They were still. His palms were crossed, identically to hers. He leaned back and closed his eyes, slipping into his first unaided sleep in months.
They were drawing into Central Station when he woke up. He felt refreshed. She was awake as well. As he stretched carefully she leaned a little away from him, allowing him space.
They got off the bus one after the other. She looked around, then, virtually in step with him walked across to the pedestrian lights. She walked beside him across the road and entered the same building by his side. Her high heels made a very soft sound, very unlike his sister’s whose clackety clack he had come to hate.
It no longer seemed uncanny to him that she was by his side. She looked at him once or twice, always in that same indefinable way, but he did not try to probe that anymore. He shrugged. She had come from Canberra to Sydney on the same bus, to the same building. So what? He paused in front of the big information board, confirmed that Messrs Young, Young, and Bulle were on the 17th floor, and turned to the lifts. He saw a flash of her dress and heels as the doors closed and the lift rose away. He straightened his shoulders, realised he was still smiling, and pressed the up button.
He did not see her again.