This is a work of fiction, a short story of 950 words.
When Martin arrived to open the shop, he noticed the old lady again. She had been there yesterday, perching on the plastic bucket seat under the perspex-covered bus stop. He was sure that it was the same lady. She was wearing a long blue coat, and had a shopping trolley in front of her knees. It was the old type, covered in a waterproof fabric resembling a red and black tartan. Her hat was distinctive too, a pink beret, with a jewelled butterfly brooch pinned to the side.
That morning was busy. There were lots of copying jobs outstanding, and a special offer on photo processing had brought in more customers than he had ever imagined. He left Dylan working the counter, and stayed in the back for a few hours, getting all the jobs out, and checking on the photo machine regularly. Just before midday, Dylan came and told him that there was a paper delivery. Being so close to the bus stop, Martin was aware that the delivery men hated to hang around too long, so he went out to help them in with the heavy boxes of paper, leaving them in the front of the shop for the time being, to be shifted later.
When he came back to start loading them onto his hand-truck, he noticed the pink beret again. The old lady was still there, sitting in the same spot. Dylan asked if he could go to lunch. He was meeting his girlfriend in the cafe, and they were strict about the lunch times where she worked, at the chemist shop further along the High Street. Martin let him go, and stood behind the counter, serving customers as the busy period started to pick up. When Dylan returned, Martin walked over to the inside of the large window. She was still there. He checked his watch. Almost five hours, and she hadn’t got on a bus. She hadn’t even moved, as far as he could tell.
He opened the door, and walked over to the bus stop. Standing in front of the old woman, he smiled.
“Are you alright? Can I get you anything?” He didn’t know what else to say.
She looked up at the tall young man, apparently surprised by his question.
“I’m fine thank you. I am just waiting for my bus.” She looked back down at the lid of her shopping trolley, indicating that the conversation was over. Martin felt awkward, so he just nodded, and went back inside, turning to look again, as he did so.
The buses had been coming and going all day, yet she had not made the slightest effort to approach one, or to even leave her small uncomfortable seat. By 3:30, he was becoming really concerned. She had been there for seven hours. As far as he knew, she had not had a drink, or anything to eat, and had not left her place to use a toilet, or even to just stretch her legs. Even on a mild day, she must surely have been feeling cold by now too? The afternoons were usually quiet, so he left Dylan checking some stock, and went out again.
“Can I help you at all? Perhaps you would like a drink, or to sit inside my shop?”
Her watery eyes looked at him, showing no recognition of ever seeing him before.
“No thank you, I am waiting for my bus. I assure you I am quite alright.”
Martin wasn’t about to leave it there.
“The buses have all come and gone, you must have seen them. Which bus are you waiting for?”
His tone was a little severe perhaps, but he was really getting worried about her now.
The old lady shifted her weight on the plastic seat, and folded her arms across her chest. She looked back up at him, and this time she wasn’t smiling.
“Not that it’s any of your business, young man, but I am waiting for the Number 4.”
Martin grinned, relieved to hear that.
“That explains it then. The Number 4 hasn’t been stopping here for years. Not since I was a little boy, I’m sure of that. Maybe you should be at a different bus stop?”
She set her lips, and inclined her head a little to the left.
” I assure you that it does stop here. My husband will be coming home from work on it, and I have met him at the bus here every day for many years. Please leave me alone, and mind your own business.”
Martin thought she must have lost the plot. She had been there yesterday, and again today, sitting for hours waiting for a bus that was never going to come. He went back into the shop, wondering who he should ring. Perhaps she had absconded from a care home, or was missed by her family? He should do something about it. He started to check through the telephone book, for the number of Social Services. Dylan came through from the store-room. Martin was holding the book, and flicking through the pages.
“What you looking up, Martin?”
“I need the number for Social Services.”
“Why’s that then?”
The boy’s questions were irritating him.
“I’m going to ring up about that old lady, the one who has been at the bus stop all day.”
“What old lady?”
Martin walked over to the window, and nodded in her direction.
“That one sitting down, with the pink beret on.”
Dylan joined him at the window. The bus stop was empty. There was nobody sitting on any of the seats, and no queue for the next bus yet either.
Martin raised his voice. “Yes that one, wearing the blue coat, and holding the shopping trolley.”