Hope is a short story inspired by a young woman and a man I saw standing close to the bus station, Bus Aras, in Dublin. They weren’t together but something told me they could be if they wanted. The story won first prize in the ReadLK competition in 2012.
Friday night, queues at every gate. Pandora thinks everyone in Dublin is going home for the bank holiday. Still ten minutes to go but the thirty-odd people in her own queue shuffle forward in collective anticipation. The slightly odd-looking man behind her bumps into Pandora. He apologises, she smiles, he beams back with a toothy grin.
‘Like your hair, it’s pretty’
Inwardly she agrees. Cost her a packet today. Ash blonde and pink streaks. God knows what her mother will say when she sees it. She doesn’t want to engage with this guy about it anyway. Pandora stares at the absent bus. He’s persistent.
‘I’m Danny. Where’re you going’
‘Donegal town’. She knows she’s too polite for her own good. She also knows what’s coming next.
‘Wow. I’m going to Ballyshannon. We could sit together.’
Danny seems pleased with this idea, his grin becomes even broader.
‘Maybe. Depends if there’s seats together by the time we get on.’ She hopes beyond hope. He’s not giving up.
‘I could ask someone to move. They always do. They think from the funny way I look that I’m not too bright and if they don’t move I’ll sit by them.’
Pandora’s jaw drops momentarily, then she laughs at Danny’s self awareness.
‘You’re a bold boy then, aren’t you?’
Encouraged by her response, Danny points at the swelling beneath Pandora’s coat.
‘Are you having a baby?’
Pandora’s laughter melts away. ‘I am. I’m off home to tell Mammy.’
Danny’s grin also disappears.
‘I’ve no Mammy now. She died last week. Just me and Daddy left. He’s in a wheelchair. Mammy looked after the two of us. Don’t know what will happen now.’
The queue moves a few inches again, though still no bus. Pandora strokes her bump.
Danny pulls something from his pocket and hands it to Pandora. It’s an old photograph, well creased from handling.
‘This is me and Mammy when I was a baby.’
A woman in her late forties is holding a child with a flat face and almond-shaped eyes. The doctors have said Pandora’s child will look like this. The woman has so much love in her face.
‘Do you think she’s pretty?’
‘She’s beautiful, Danny. Beautiful.’
The bus draws in and the gate swishes open. Everyone climbs on board.
Every seat half occupied. Pandora pushes her swollen tummy as far out as she can and approaches a middle-aged man sitting alone halfway down the aisle.
‘Excuse me, sir. Would it be a terrible thing to ask you to move so I could sit here with my friend, Danny?’
The man looks first at Pandora’s hair, then at her stomach and finally at the face of her companion and he’s out of there.
Danny plops down on the window seat. Pandora slides in beside him and smiles as the bus pulls out.