At the end of the day, the bus didn’t smell or look much better than a public washroom. The floor was wet and soggy, the preventitive sandy grip floor peeled away from the edges and curled forward, catching transluscent cigarrettes in the tsunami of ice and slush. The smell of alcohol processed through pores and breath was suspended in the cold humid air and got caught in her clothes no matter which way she tried to move away from it, her thighs tense as she tried to not quite sit on the seat that had gum and god knows what else on it. The mess on the floor shifted with the bus, cold dirty water seeped in and out of her shoes like a tide, governed by right and left turns.
She was tired.
Her hat, stained with makeup around the face was pulled down over what had never been a very good hairstyle, even that morning as she tried to smile at herself in the mirror in different ways and jab her scalp with bobby pins. Now it had given up completely, and wasn’t even making a valient effort to escape the wool toque. A bobby pin had made a run for it and sat dejected on the seat beside her, a few pieces of blond hair in its mouth.
Her jacket needed to be washed, her boots from two Christmases ago which had already been repaired twice and were fast losing the appeal of well worn and approaching worn out. Her fingers smelled like the two pilfered cigarettes she’d had that day, and everytime she reached up to jam a few errant limp strands of hair under her hat she grimaced with the smell.
She felt used up and worn out, blown and frayed.
She knew what he smelled like before he sat down, like humidity and warmth, wool and vodka, mouth and tobacco. His dark green double breasted wool jacket was long and tenderly mended, small stitches holding a pocket in place, a button replaced with its closest match from a jar somewhere. She could see a wool sweater underneath, and black wool pants, leather shoes shiny where the wool had buffed them, dull and salt laced where the season had done its damage. He wore a small wedge of a black hat over a shaved head dusted with salt. As he slowly sat beside her his feet stemmed the tide of slush, protecting hers.
He set his brown gloved hands on his knees, and as he moved she could smell an old world cologne, something warm and spicy coming out of the humidity in his sweater as he breathed. He held himself reserved but not stiff, making sure that he didn’t lean into her, counterbalancing himself with the bus movements. He looked at her and smiled a small warm smile, hers was too late coming after his and felt forced, but he only sighed and gave a small half nod.
Something about him made her more tired, maybe a little more relaxed, or aware of being tired. Sitting next to him put a lump in her throat in the way that only familiar smells can do, the spicy smell of strength and warmth from 20 years previous seeped into her hair and chest. As she tried to swallow it and blinked rapidly away the foolishness the bus swerved and her perch on the seat failed. Her shoulder shot up to prevent a collision and protect her frame, levering itself against his as he did the same. They stayed for a moment like a house of cards, balanced against each other until he relaxed.
His arm slowly moved to his side, carrying hers with it as though the collision had fused them. He reached up with his other hand and patted her forearm, his glove making a soft slapping sound on her canvas jacket. He left his hand there for a few moments, like he was escorting her to the opera, and she was glad. A few minutes later he rang the bell and went to stand; unfurling his other hand he placed the bobby pin on her knee.
He stood in the aisle, and the tsunami flooded back into her shoes.
But she was a little less tired.