When the girl appeared, I was standing at a bus stop on Victoria Road, squinting at the sunbeams bouncing off the streaming cars and buses. The girl slunk towards the bus stop without seeing me, shoulders slightly stooped with the weight of her backpack, head nodding to the beat that pulsated through her oversized headphones. She exuded an effortless cool that made me flinch self-consciously. Her loose black singlet hung down past her ridiculously tiny hips, and her skinny jeans were swallowed up by gaping mouths; the tops of her stylish, chunky, knee-length boots. Her auburn hair was casually tousled by the breeze and her septum piercing glinted sexily in the sun.
When she reached the bus stop, she slung off her backpack and slid down the glass wall of the bus shelter, sinking onto the cement with her legs pressed to her chest. With the delicate tips of her fingers, she tapped out a silent rhythm upon her knees.
The seat inside the bus shelter was vacant apart from myself. If the girl had noticed this, she clearly preferred to remain in her melodic dream, adrift in a world far removed from this awkward, frizzy-haired, red-cheeked stranger. This not did surprise me. I wore a second-hand polyester dress with a faded floral pattern, odd socks and cheap imitation Hush Puppies from K-mart. I was a fraud. With her coffee-fuelled charisma and expensive boots, the girl had probably sauntered over from Sydney College of the Arts across the road. Whereas I had stumbled from my job as a teachers’ aid at Rozelle public school, where I was employed for long hours with little money in return. A scruffy street kid who had drifted anchor-less from place to place, bombed the HSC and never been to university…well, I was doing alright for myself, really.
I saw the familiar gleam of the red m50 bus racing towards me. I jumped up, about to gesture to the driver to stop, when a low voice behind me said, a little sheepishly, “I’m sorry, I just have to say that I really love your tattoo.”
I turned around. The girl had taken off her giant earphones so that they hugged her dainty neck, and she was looking up at me from where she sat, still leaning against the side of the bus shelter.
“Oh…thankyou.” I let my hand fall slack at my side, peripherally aware of my bus speeding by without me. Damn.
“Where’d you get it done?” The gaps between her teeth made her smile seem mischievous.
“At a place in Newtown. It wasn’t one of their designs, though. I just got a guy there to copy a design I’d brought in.”
“Where’d you find the design?” She stood up, moving towards me. She re-examined the image that stretched across the back of my right shoulder.
“It’s so beautiful, the way the woman’s hair coils out into leaves like that. It reminds me of a picture book I had as a kid, where a tree had the figure of a woman trapped inside it. It was supposed to be the spirit of the tree, I think. Oh”- she paused, apologetic- “I’m rambling.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m glad you like it. I drew it myself, actually.”
“Wow. It’s really good. Are you an artist?”
I stared at her for a moment, unsure what to say. “Well…not exactly. I mean, I’m not. But there was a time when I wanted to be.” I quickly changed the subject. “What about you? When I saw you before, I thought you might be at SCA.”
“Yeah,” she began, but she was distracted. She scanned the oncoming traffic and abruptly stuck out her hand.
“That’s my bus,” she announced, swinging her bag over her shoulder. As the bus pulled up beside us and the doors shuddered open, she glanced back to me.
“I am at SCA. You should come visit me sometime, if you hang out around here.”
“Oh, okay. I mean, I will. I work near here.” I tried not to reveal how flattered I was, that someone like her would consider spending time with me. “Which department can I find you in?”
“Oh, I’m not an art student,” she said, smiling that mischievous smile. “I just work there, in the cafeteria. Stop by sometime and you can have coffee on me.”