Fiction Fix 16

Page 42

Di Jayawickrema

Kirekenes, Nor way

“Would you like to sit down?” “No, no, no,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. He had been brusque; a bad habit of old. He shuffled around in the crowded bus to face her. She was younger than him, but not by much. Lately, he weighed every new person he met this way – older or younger, younger or older, who’s playing death’s end game – a new bad habit. A neat, white bob framed her round face, small flecks of mascara in the heavy creases around her alert blue eyes, an uneven smear of pale red lipstick on her large mouth. Why did women his age wear makeup like they were wearing ghosts? She was looking up at him, her smile half-apologetic, half-defiant. He knew she was afraid he might be offended but didn’t see why he should be; he was old, after all. Women, at least, had the courage of their convictions. She gave him a small, encouraging nod. She was kind. Or perhaps she just wanted to talk. “No, thank you,” he said, gentler. “It’s very nice of you, though.” “I always stumble,” she said quickly. “My body can’t handle the jerking around anymore. And with these buses, you can never tell when you’re going to topple right over…” Evidently, she wanted to talk. He took a breath and tensed his body as in the old days before a long plunge into the fjord. This woman would talk until one of them got off the bus. “Me too,” he lied. He rarely stumbled. He had learned how to balance under the weight of diving gear, move against quick currents. New York City public transportation proved no major challenge. His body remembered so much of what he’d forgotten. “These days you can’t count on the young ones to give you a seat,” she continued. “They’re so busy looking down at their phones and their little computers.” “Praying,” he said absently. He thought of Marit, when he first saw her in Kirkenes Church, her smooth blonde head bent low over a Bible. In her younger days, this woman would have looked something like Marit, a little. The woman laughed – a rough, happy bark with no resentment in it. He moved a


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