I’m on the bus after another dispiriting day in the office. At home, back chatting teens, dinner drudgery, trite TV and an unresponsive partner await to sap me further. Out the window I see a row of beleaguered plane trees, their stark, clipped limbs burdened with Christmas lights and decorations. I feel like those trees these days. These years. Pruned so ruthlessly I’m close to breaking. Maybe I could catch a chrome bird? Fly off to somewhere sizzling with excitement, opportunity and heat?
I close my eyes, clear my mind of fanciful questions and qualms. The bus is warm, the windows steamy. My fellow passengers and I are cocooned in winterwear as the bus slowly lurches along lighted streets. People stare at nothing, look at their phones, read. Chatter comes from downstairs, but upstairs it’s quiet. Without warning a woman near me shouts into her phone.
‘Does Angela Merkel look like Angelina Jolie or Minnie Mouse?’
Six times she asks this, so I’m sure that’s the question. I can’t fathom the answer. I struggle to get my head around the question. I shift just enough to look at her. Her face indicates she blazed through middle age and kept going, but with bright orange hair and lipstick it’s clear she still has spark. She wears complicated earrings that nearly reach her shoulders. They look like dream catchers. Her lime-coloured beret and a matching scarf compliment a smart black coat that could be found within the
pages of Vogue. She’s a woman with panache, carrying the whiff of rebel about her. I smile. Oh to be like that at her age.
At my age. At any age.
In the silence that ensues, I assume she’s receiving the answer to her question. I lean in. I want to know too. Or rather, I want to have someone available to answer my capricious questions. I watch her earrings catch the light, become lost in my own musings. The choices I’ve made and not made. The things I’ve done and not done.
Then she says, ‘You think about that. We’ll talk later,’ and hangs up.
I slump in my seat. I won’t learn the answer. And once I’m home all fanciful thoughts will be pushed aside. Then it occurs to me: she wasn’t asking a question. She was issuing a challenge. She knows the answer.
I marvel at that. Her lack of doubt. Her belief that whatever the question, she’ll have an answer. A good one. The expectation her caller will actively search for one too. No matter how fantastical the question. My eyes slide back to her earrings. This time I don’t see my past, but trees. Silver birches, shimmering in the sun’s spring light, their slender branches tipped with delicate buds just beginning to sprout, so tiny they can hardly be seen. But they’re there. Rebelling against the grey banality and boredom of everyday life. Bright green tips bringing hope.
I’m at my stop. I feel energised. As the bus pulls away, I see her through the window. She’s on the phone again, this Angela Merkel fashionista. I’d tip my hat to her if I had one.
I’m expected home, but head in the opposite direction, towards the shops. I fancy a beret. And a pair of dangly earrings.
Originally from America’s heartland, Missouri, Sherry moved to central London as soon as she could and never looked back. She now lives on a farm in the Scottish Highlands where she watches clouds, pets cows, goes for long walks and scribbles stories. She writes short stories, flash fiction and monologues which have won prizes, placed on shortlists and been performed in London and Scotland. Her published work can be found on www.uksherka.com or follow her @Uksherka.
Our literary Editor Katy Darby also is part of Liars’ League, a monthly live fiction event where writers write, actors read, audiences listen and everybody wins. Videos and MP3s can be found at liarsleague.com.