Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This time, Michelle Surtees-Myers is waiting for a night bus.
Night Bus Dreams
Pamela huddled under the bus shelter waiting for the number 47 night bus. She’d already miserably christened it the bus that never comes. The streets of London were silent, deserted, as if the city had been evacuated at the midnight tolls, which were still ringing, with only few ragged souls remaining. Pools of misty yellow light cast an ethereal glow into dark corners and forgotten kinks in the road, illuminating late night stragglers in long coats with turned up collars, leaning into corners, smoking wet cigarettes.
It was pouring with the kind of rain that can only fall out of the sky at midnight: unrelenting, icy needles, forming runlets of water, which snaked down empty streets looking for feet to lick and shoes to curl up in. She could feel the freezing wet of the pavement seeping through the toes of her shoes and her dripping hair was patched to the sides of her face. She was glad that she couldn’t see her reflection. Her new party dress, so pretty when she’d put it on this morning, was damp under her too-thin coat and her stockings were laddered. She was sure that her eyeliner was running down her cheeks and her lipstick was smudged. She shivered. Were those tears on her face or drops of rain leaking through the roof?
Why, why did she do this? She berated herself for what felt like the millionth time. But she had to go out, mingle and meet people. That’s what single people in London did, and in the run up to Christmas it was even more important because, by god, you didn’t want to be alone. Force-fed an endless barrage of images of sparkling, happy couples and families in Christmas jumpers, drinking glasses of homemade mulled wine and eggnog. It was enough to drive you to the brink. You had to be happy at Christmas, even if your smile didn’t quite reach your eyes.
So, indulging in the spirit, you’d end up in some crowded pub again and again, shouting words over too-loud music, imitating having a good time. Glass after glass of good cheer and forced laughter. Then home, a few hours sleep, shower, dress, and return to work; making it through the day only to do it all over again.
Now here she was, standing at a cold, wet bus stop under a dirty yellow light, alone, again. Water splashed against her legs as the rain pelted the pavement behind her, puddles rippling her watery reflection, blurred through unfallen tears.
A young girl from a small town up north dreams of making her way in a city of millions and finding true love. Sounds like Christmas. Someone to love, gifts under the tree, fire chomping at the grate. Well, such dreams were long buried and forgotten after too many disappointments under too many glasses of wine. He’d have dark hair, a lopsided grin, and a way of looking at her that was just for her. What would she give for just one ounce of the magic and a glimmer of that dream? A piece of her soul? Probably. She closed her eyes and wished.
She opened her eyes at a sudden hiss of rising steam. The bus, at last! The doors swung open to reveal a cheerful driver, doffing his cap. “All aboard. Destination Christmas. C’mon love, you’ll catch your death out there.” She clambered in and sank gratefully into the first seat, wet steam rising off her coat. The bus was empty, except for a few silent shadows at the back, hooded heads asleep. The driver’s reflection grinned back at her from the rear-view mirror, revealing a set of crooked teeth. “So love, where to this fine evening?” She smiled wanly and shook some of the water out of her hair. “Just home, please”. “Home”, twinkled the driver. “That’s all about the heart, isn’t it?” She hoped that he wasn’t one of those cheerful drivers who chatted all the way, but thankfully his gaze fixed ahead, intent on his route. She half closed her eyes and through the dripping corners of her foggy window, watched London reel by like an old film, wet and tinselled around the edges. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.
As the warmth of the bus seeped into her bones, Pamela’s mind drifted to how much she’d loved London at night. She hadn’t felt sad walking across Waterloo Bridge after dark, looking out across the river, taking in the glitter of the South Bank, or meandering under the twinkling lights of Covent Garden. At night, in December, London hid all sorrow behind its glorious facade. The river dazzled reflections of golds, reds and greens, and architectural wonders like St Paul's and the Shard lit up in the distance. You could simply feel the magic. London was gift wrapped, the Thames its shiny bow.
A cheerful voice startled her from her reverie. “Right, this is your stop. Hop off.” The driver doffed his cap to her as she stepped off. Pamela was momentarily disoriented. This couldn’t be her stop; she was right back where she started! Had she been asleep, gone all the way around and back again? She looked at her watch. Two minutes past midnight. Confused, she turned back, but the bus was gone.
Slowly, she realised that it had stopped raining. A crescent moon lit the sky, framed by a sugar sprinkling of stars. For the first time, she noticed a man just appeared, leaning up against the far corner of the bus shelter, coat collar turned up against the cold, dark hair plastered to his face. He looked over at her and smiled a lopsided smile. Two minutes earlier she’d have missed him.
The night bus trundled on, carrying no other passengers but the shadows at the back, hooded heads asleep.
That's it for our Christmas fiction this year. Do continue to send your general London short stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be publishing these again early next year. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.