If I want to beat my head against the bus stop window, don’t mess me about. Don’t put your hand between my forehead and the glass. Don’t be all strong and gentle and caring.
Help. Seriously, go away … and help.
Hail rattles on the metal roof, freezing wind whips clothing…
I’m being hugged by someone I don’t know. She’s fat and perfumed … and strong.
She says, “Tell me.”
“Fuck off.” I struggle. She won’t let me go.
I sag like a fish long after it’s worth eating. Tears everywhere.
She repeats, “Tell me.”
I gasp, take a deep breath. “Two men.”
“Two men?” Have you been assaulted?” She lets go with one hand and pulls a phone from a pocket.
“No, much worse. Much worse. Two … two men…” I relax a bit.
Her grip on me becomes less of a constraint. She says, “You’re talking … good … go on.”
I settle my breathing. “Two men … but which? This is so hard … so fucking hard.”
The woman holds my arms hard but gives me a chance to pull back a bit … and see her more clearly. Why is her mascara running? Why is she crying? She says, “Talk! Tell me about them.”
I dive into the deep end of speaking to a complete stranger.
“Ben … he’s nice … always laughing … smart … good looking. Has a big house in Morningside. Big job in marketing.”
She asks, “And the other?” Her voice is like a sergeant-major’s command.
“Mike … trouble. Artist who lives in a bedsit in Leith. Pushes me away. Scruffy, really poor … occasionally a bit smelly … a bit ashamed of himself at times. He can work thirty-six hours non-stop and passes out on the floor. Says he didn’t choose to be an artist any more than he chose to be a man, didn’t choose to be a human either. Reckons he’ll never earn much… Well, not enough to support the children I want.”
I’m pulled back into another hug. A bus stops but we both miss it. Doors slam and hiss. Rain and hail patters over glass and into gutters. The woman says, “Why did you leave Mike till last? He’s the important one? Welcome to the scary life. Take the bus to Leith. You’ve already made your choice.”
She takes a deep breath. “I live in Leith; I’m a choreographer. I earn virtually nothing. My husband stocks shelves in a supermarket to keep us. Don’t ever fall into the black hole of thinking income is equivalent to worth. That’s killing yourself.” She squeezes me. “This is it. Take the plunge: we only get one life.”