Of course she knew it was ridiculous but she stood and walked past the row of benches. On the first couple were young men, not much more than children really, they had dark coloured hoodies pulled up, covering uneasy sleeping faces. Their skinny legs were wrapped in jeans and they both slept with their heads on top of canvas bags. There were two empty seats then she turned the corner of the square.
An old man, his jacket was torn and layer up on layer of woollen tops had ridden up over his grey belly so that she could see, under the glow of the street lamp, a piece of string holding up his ragged trousers. His shoes were split and worn, the laces missing and tucked all around him were carrier bags bulging with dirty, messy rubbish, cans and newspapers, fast food containers and rags. She scuttled past, he shifted on the seat and she heard him grunt and cough and then as her feet sped away the heard him spit and the splat of thick mucus hit the ground behind her. She thought it hit the back of her trousers but didn’t dare to stop and turn or bend to look. She felt defiled.
Of the remaining seats, there were only two with occupants. On one a couple cuddled close and she could see at once that they were well dressed, they had pull along luggage and were obviously stranded passengers. They looked dejected and depressed and she gave them a brief smile but they turned away and she realised that she too mightappear odd and perhaps, more like the other inhabitants of this inhospitable place than, like them just someone passing through.
On the last seat was a skinny girl. She wasn’t stretched out as the males had been but she her feet were drawn up onto the seat, arms wrapped around her legs. Her head rested on the points of her knees. She wasn’t sleeping and as Flora slowed to look at her she peered out from under the rim of a baseball cap. She didn’t speak but nodded, just once. Flora smiled back and walked on.
After a few yards she paused and turned. She retraced her steps and approached the bench. “Hi, I’m Flora, can I sit with you for a bit?” The girl shrugged but shuffled along the bench, she grabbed her backpack and held it in front of her, wrapping her arms tightly around it.
“It’s cold.” Flora could think of nothing else to say but suddenly and inexplicably she wanted the sound of another voice. She wanted to be acknowledged. She was adrift, like a small boat cut free from its moorings with the current carrying it out into the white water and she wanted a line back to the shore. When the girl didn’t answer, she glanced around, back towards the bus station. “Do you want a coffee, tea?” The girl swivelled her head, not lifting it but peering up from under the peak of her hat. Dark eyes studied Flora, assessed her, judged the danger.
“Hot chocolate. That’d be nice.”
When she came back from the drinks machine, the teen, for that is what she was, had lowered her feet to the floor and the precious backpack was now beside her on the seat. She had threaded an arm through the straps. She reached out to take the polystyrene cup and wrapped both hands around it. “Cheers.”
They sat in silence for a while, sipping at the watery liquid. It tasted of cardboard but it was warming and it was sweet. “You going somewhere?”
The question took her by surprise, it was muttered into the mug of hot chocolate and the girl didn’t turn to look at her. Flora shook her head. “No, well. I don’t know. Yes, I am going somewhere, it’s just that I don’t know where I’m going.”
“Ha, none of us know where we’re going do we? You runnin’ away then?. Nasty pig of a husband? Cheatin’, bastard boyfriend?”
“No, I’m looking for someone and I don’t know where to start.”
“So, why here?”
“Well, he used to work there.” She raised her hand and pointed to the accountancy office. “He was an accountant.”
“So, buggered off as he. Best let him go. If he wants to go, let him go. It don’t work forcin’ people to stay.”
“No, he didn’t ‘bugger off’. Not really.” By now the girl had turned to look at her. Flora could see the crease of puzzlement on her forehead and knew that she wasn’t making any sense.
“Oh right, so he buggered off then.”
“No, nobody knows what happened to him.”
“Nobody ever does.” She pointed across the square, “them lads. I bet their mums and dads say ‘Oh we don’t know what happened, we don’t know where they are but they haven’t buggered off, they’ll be back in a bit. Old Stan,” she indicated the noxious old man who had spit at Flora. “Somewhere he might have a wife, some kids saying ‘oh we don’t know what happened’.
“No, it isn’t like that. We think he might have been murdered.”
“Bloody Norah, and you’re looking for him? Well that’s, what – erm. Are you sick then, in the head. Sorry and I’m not being funny but that’s just weird.”
“Yes, I suppose it is. No, I’m not sick in the head. Although I’ve not been really, properly, well for a long time now. Oh don’t worry I’m not a nut job or anything, but I have been depressed and I just – oh look it doesn’t matter.”
“You can tell me if you like. A cup of hot chocolate gets you a listen if you like.”
And so, in the early morning drizzle, as the light turned from black to something lighter but not quite dawn, Flora told the girl about the worst moments of her life. It didn’t feel odd and she didn’t cry, she didn’t make excuses or complicate things. She relayed the information, the fear, the terror and the despair and it was just calm and she didn’t feel judged or pitied. The girl had no axe to grind, no knowledge of Kevin, or her and no blame to apportion, she was just a listener.