Siri was all in black. She saw her reflection in the windows of Mr. Olofsson’s car as she walked past and she liked the totality of it—black leather jacket, tight skirt, patterned black leggings, black knee socks, boots. It made her skin look even paler than it was, and her hair, casually spiked, was almost as translucent.
She’d thought about dyeing her hair black too, because blonde hair was all too common in northern Sweden, but keeping it blonde somehow reminded her that she wouldn’t always be here. She’d escape to university first, then to the world beyond—London, Paris, New York, and who knew where else besides.
Pia was already at the bus stop and so was the older guy who always got on at their stop. Siri nodded to Pia as she got there and gave a half-smile but they didn’t speak. Sometimes they did, today they didn’t, not out of animosity, just a quiet understanding that there wasn’t always a need.
The bus came, not the usual driver, but the same passengers. There were the two middle-aged women sitting at the front who talked continuously and got off at the next stop. There were the two boys from school—they usually nodded to Siri but never spoke. Pia knew them and always sat with them, sometimes laughing and joking. And that was it, at least for the next few stops.
Siri walked two-thirds of the way up the bus and sat down. She didn’t walk all the way to the back because the older guy who got on with them always sat on the back seat, and stayed on after they got off for school. It was just one of those weird unwritten rules—they all sat in the same seats, every morning, no change of routine, not ever.
Siri put her earphones in and turned on her music, then closed her eyes against the bright September sunlight and relaxed with the smooth movement of the bus pulling away and gliding along the road towards another day.
A few minutes later she felt it slowing down, then stop, and she knew that the two women would be getting off—normally they’d chat with the driver for a few seconds, but perhaps not today if they didn’t know him. They set off again, Siri’s eyes still closed but glowing orange inside, the music cocooning her.
She felt the bus braking a couple of times more than it usually would have done, the driver slowing down at stops where the familiar driver would have sped past, knowing no one ever boarded there. They didn’t stop though, and then the bus picked up a little speed on the open road.
She became lost in herself and her music, thoughts falling away. Once, briefly, she opened her eyes, saw Pia chatting enthusiastically with the two boys, saw the kaleidoscope of shadows and sunlight flickering along the road edge and among the trees. She shut it all out again and could almost have fallen asleep.
Then she opened her eyes a second time, because in some odd way she could feel that something was wrong, almost as if she was moving sideways rather than forwards. The bus was braking, but the movement seemed wrong somehow. The older guy appeared at her side, quite suddenly, making her jump a little. She thought he was walking down to the front of the bus.
She tried to look forward, to see what was happening, but the older guy stopped and turned abruptly and she realized now that his actions were urgent and directed at her. Before she could respond, he grabbed her, pulling her from her seat with frightening ease. She screamed, the sound of it muffled and contained inside her own head by the music from the earphones.
Briefly, she caught a glimpse of Pia and the two boys. They’d stopped talking, she thought, but none of them turned to see why she was screaming. One of the boys had his face pressed against the window. Siri didn’t have time to think through what it meant because the man was pushing her further up the aisle, a sickening strength in him.
She fell backwards, crashing to the floor in slow motion and without any noticeable impact, as if she was falling against some opposing momentum, as if gravity had briefly failed. And then the man fell on top of her, and she could see him speaking to her, looking desperate and terrifying, but she couldn’t hear him, only the music.