(500 words) [original publication date 25th March 2016]
My umbrella is up, but cold, angry drops somehow find their way down my neck. A white minibus trundles into view and I signal, feeling rain on my hand. The bus pulls over. It’s Lilly, my favourite driver.
“Hello Julie, how’re you?” she says, smoker’s teeth smiling below a dyed red mop.
“I’m good thanks,” I say, although I hate the expression.
“They’re cutting the buses, did you know?”
Actually I’ve heard little else recently, especially on local radio. “Yes, terrible isn’t it,” I say, predictably.
“We’re really worried about our jobs. If they’re cutting timetables there might be redundancies.”
“You’ll be OK Lilly, everyone likes you. They won’t let you go,” although I know that probably isn’t true. She’s a talkative soul but I just want to sit down and lose my wet umbrella. The bus is empty save for an old lady known locally as ‘The Witch’. Long, white, greasy hair falls over a wrinkled face. I feel reluctant to sit anywhere near her but she beckons me.
“Hello, it’s Julie isn’t it?” she says in a surprisingly educated-sounding voice. I realise we’ve never spoken before.
The bus rattles along anonymous narrow roads, bordered by high hedges, jostling us around. She starts on her life story, a long tale of universities, qualifications and academics. I soon lose concentration but am jolted out of my reverie with, “so you’ll take it to him then?”
“Sorry, who was that again?”
“Graham, my son, he works in a research laboratory in Lincoln university, I’ve just been talking about him!”
“Oh yes, of course,” I say, instantly regretting it.
Twisted, arthritic fingers hand me a sealed envelope and I feel a sudden remorse. I smile. “I can drop it round tomorrow.”
The next day I’m wandering around endless corridors, feeling like an imposter. I’d told a security guard that I had a message for ‘Graham’. “Oh, Professor Harrison you mean,” he’d said, smiling knowingly. He’d waved me through, presumably considering me no threat to the establishment.
Finally, I reach the right department and press a buzzer. A white-coated man, wearing gold-rimmed glasses, comes to the door.
“Sorry to bother you, I’ve an envelope for Professor Harrison.”
Seeing my embarrassment, he smiles pleasantly. “That’s me. I don’t know why she can’t put it in the post like anyone else but she’s a bit..well, you know…” His eyes roll. Opening the envelope, he unfolds a sheet of minuscule writing and strange symbols.
“What is it?” I say, surprised at my boldness.
“Oh, pharmaceutical stuff; she says it’ll revolutionize production of an anti-cancer drug.”
“Will it,” I ask, hopefully.
His eyes run down it again. “Maybe. Anyway, thanks, I really appreciate you bringing it. By the way, have you had lunch?“
“Oh, I’ve a dental appointment, I must go.”
“We could go to Shakespeare’s round the corner, it’s first class.” He smiles again and I notice he is quite handsome.
I laugh. “Well, I guess the drilling could be postponed!”