She had just run away from the hospital – and no one needed to know.
Working hard to maintain a calm, collected demeanor, Mal boarded the bus, gave the driver a polite “good morning,” paid in coins, and headed for the back. The early bird gets the worm, they say – and Mal got first choice of seating. As she settled for a window seat near the rear door, she looked up and met the driver’s gaze in the rearview mirror for an awkward, uncomfortable second. Then the driver glanced away and merged back into the relatively empty street, and Mal forced herself to relax.
Nothing could give her away, she told herself. There wasn’t anything notable about her appearance that would make her stand out in a crowd. Covered with several layers of long-sleeve shirts and jackets, the scars and tattoos and wrists rubbed raw from hospital bracelets had all but disappeared, and Mal was transformed into a seemingly normal girl. Normal…
She hated that word.
Mal slipped in some headphones – minus the music, just for appearance – and gazed out the window as the bus moved fluidly through the city. Some shops and businesses were just starting to open. A couple of kids were chasing each other down the sidewalk, their mother trailing them still somewhat sleepily. Mal surveyed the storefronts, the pedestrians, the clear glowing sky, the fading lane lines painted on the street, and she couldn’t help but wonder – did she really see the world so differently from other people? So differently that they would lock her up for it?
None of it had ever made sense to her. But if all went well, that didn’t matter. She would ride the bus across the island, get off in some random town, and start a new life, and no one would ever have to know about her past. No one would ever lock doors on her again, not one more time would she have to hear the word crazy being hurled against her throbbing heart. Not one more time would her family leave her to die.
Mal hadn’t been a troublesome child. She had never whined or begged or thrown self-centered tantrums. All she had wanted was love. But apparently even that was too much to ask of certain human beings.
Sitting here now, the only passenger in the bus, blank headphones in her silent ears, Mal felt incredibly tired. But she was also momentarily content – and wasn’t that always the most important thing? To be able to live with yourself? Such an ordinary feat, but so many people lied to themselves about it, or at least so it seemed to Mal. She, for one, didn’t want to have to lie about her own happiness. So much had been taken from her already – it didn’t seem right to waste whatever she had left.
As the two of them were carried steadily to their respective destinations, the young blond-haired driver glanced at Mal in the mirror occasionally – not suspicious or curious glances, but rather motions of consideration and care. Noticing this habit, Mal began to relax in her seat even further.
If she was going to have to spend almost two days on this bus, she was glad most of all to have a human driver.