The lady next to him had a very peculiar hat on. It drooped four peacock feathers around her nose, and every now and again she’d swipe at them, as one would a mosquito. She had a small, orange tote bag with her, and from it came an overwhelming smell of almonds. Her left leg was crossed over her right, and she was tapping her heel furiously. She wriggled, and her foot flew loose from her body and rapped against his left knee.
‘I’m dreadfully sorry,’ she blushed, brushing a thin layer of shoe dust from his trouser leg.
Her voice was gentle and well-tuned. The sort who frequented dinner-parties but rarely spoke at them, except to compliment the host on the temperature of the room.
‘No bother, love,’ smiled Patrick. ‘Nice hat!’
The lady blinked at him, bemused by the young man’s unsolicited compliment.
‘Oh!’ she said. ‘Thank you.’
She studied Patrick’s mealy suit. And being what her friends would call incomparably English, she made to negate her debt with a compliment in return. But instead, she blurted out:
‘I’m going to my husband’s wedding.’
Both she and Patrick looked at the words as they tumbled into the air, neither sure whether to reach out and retrieve them.
‘Oh,’ nodded Patrick. He hesitated. ‘Although, no offence, love,’ he lowered his voice, ‘but would that not make him one lousy husband?’
Beatrice paused, creasing her nose. Then she laughed.
‘Very true!’ she smiled.
She looked at the stranger. He was about her son’s age. They could have been friends.
‘Ex-husband, I should say,’ she shrugged.
She looked back down at the book she was reading. A pompous, wank journal masquerading as a self-help bible. Another Lucy Brown from Number 4 recommendation.
‘Not much help, that one,’ Patrick nodded.
‘Pardon,’ Beatrice blinked.
‘Your book,’ he tapped the centre-fold. ‘Not for me, anyway.’
He turned to face the window. Sighthill. Four tower-blocks and his old primary school passed by. Beatrice held a page of her book between her thumb and forefinger, flicking it back and forth. She folded the book shut.
‘I believe you might be right,’ she smiled, dropping the book into the almond bag. ‘Although, how else does one occupy a bus journey?’
Patrick looked at his new friend. Her hair was freshly washed and neat. But he sensed she’d tugged at it at least three times before settling on this particular style. His Mum did that, usually on Wednesdays.
‘What d’ya reckon this one does?’ Patrick nodded at a lady two rows in front.
She wore a cobalt blue cardigan, and had a satchel with her initials on it. On her lap sat a bichon frise, which she occasionally shushed by name of ‘Callum’.
‘Dogwalker?’ asked Beatrice.
Patrick propped himself onto her shoulder. She felt his chin-hair tickling through her sleeve. Her son used to do that. She didn’t object.
‘Tut tut,’ he sighed. ‘Come on…?’
‘Beatrice,’ she filled in.
‘Pleasure, Beatrice,’ he nodded. ‘Paddy.’
He dropped his arm down for the obligatory handshake, not taking his gaze away from the other passenger. Beatrice accepted.
‘Nahh, think outside the box,’ he bit his tongue between his two front teeth, tapping his head twice. ‘What about…an artist?’
‘No,’ Beatrice shook her head, staring at the lady.
‘How not?’ asked Patrick.
‘The bottom of her bag is too clean,’ she replied.
Patrick looked down at Beatrice, and back at the other lady.
‘Ok,’ he nodded. ‘So, not an artist. What about a secretary?’
‘Hmmn, a chemist?’
‘An ice-cream vendor?’
‘Going to watch her ex-husband marry the woman she knows he was fucking for the last two years of their marriage?’
Beatrice and Patrick continued to stare at the stranger in silence. As often happens, but isn’t as easily explained, the lady became aware she was being watched. She turned to investigate, and four irises stared back at her, unblinking. She frowned, raised one red fingernail to them, and faced forwards again.
‘Nahh,’ whispered Patrick. ‘Not enough feathers.’