This is a love story. Ten years across one city bus.
My first kiss was in a cinema.
The second was on the 192.
Unsteadily, we climbed the stairs and perched on the seats towards the back. We were wearing matching My Chemical Romance t-shirts and jeans so tight that sitting was a challenge. He reached for my hand. Stockport drifted into the background as we made our way into the city. We didn’t have plans. We were fifteen and it was a Saturday morning. The city was ours.
As we approached our stop, he leaned forward and we kissed.
We missed the stop.
Heartbreak feels a lot bigger when you’re sixteen. It’s the end of the world. Aching, endless pain. I slumped in the patterned seats at the back of the bus. In front of me, a middle-aged woman smiled gently. It was like my singledom was written all over me.
No one wants to cry on a bus. But I did. Silent tears rolled down my face, I knew this bus so well. It was so familiar, it was like an old friend. And, if you can’t cry with old friends, who can you cry with?
My dad sighs. “Has anyone ever told you that men – that love – is a lot like buses?”
“At sixteen, I was *pretty much* an adult. I knew everything… the headlights of the bus approached. “Child’s ticket?” The bus driver asked.”
We’d made fake IDs. If you looked at them too long you could tell, there was something off about the colour, the plastic, the way they felt in your hand. But, they’d do. The student union in Stockport was having a jungle party. And, everyone was going to be there.
I layered on make-up and practised smiling in a way that wouldn’t show my braces. I wore heels that I couldn’t walk in, but if you squinted, I could pass for eighteen. Maybe. My mum raised her eyebrows and my sister snickered from the sofa as I stomped towards the bus stop.
At sixteen, I was *pretty much* an adult. I knew everything. And, now I had the look to match. I stood in the freezing cold. I hadn’t brought a coat out and bare legs had seemed a good idea inside. But, I was an adult, I reasoned. You live and you learn.
The headlights of the bus approached.
“Child’s ticket?” The bus driver asked.
It had been the hottest gig we’d ever been to. All of my make-up had run off my face and I was inexplicably missing a shoe. We sat perched at the bus stop, the night air a welcome relief.
“Do you think we’ll get married?” she asked me.
“No!” She snorted. “To like, people. In the future. I just can’t imagine it.”
“Imagine having kids.”
“Jesus. Maybe when I’m old, like twenty-nine.”
“Twenty-nine is a good age. You can like, get married when you’re twenty-five and then do the kids thing.”
She hummed in agreement.
“If we go get a pizza now, do you think we’ll miss the 192?”
“Nah. We’ve got time. Do you think they’ll let me on with one shoe?”
“For sure. Let’s go get the pizza.”
We blinked as the bus drove past the takeaway. And, as we returned to the bus stop, she lamented that her parents would kill her for being late.
“‘s fine. Blame it on the bus.”
“I was the age I thought I’d be married by. And yet, here I was. A ‘lady’ on a bus looking frazzled enough to be offered a seat. In the absence of anything else, I laughed.”
It was my last night in the UK.
I was leaving Manchester. A decision I came to on a bus just like this one. Public transport gives you a lot of time to think. Especially when you always forget your headphones.
I mulled over my last night in a place so familiar to me I could probably walk it with a blindfold on. I traced the zig-zag of the seats and stayed on a stop longer than normal. The walk would do me good.
I got my driving licence and yet, here I was, still on a bus. How is it that everyone apart from me can afford a car? I dropped a pound at the counter and the driver flicked an eyebrow.
“It’s two quid.”
The bus driver chuckled and mumbled something about inflation.
I sulked the entire route, staring out the windows, looking for signs of change. The same off licence that sells the same stale bread. My old college, the A6, it all sprawled in front of me. And, yet I breathed a sigh of relief that things were the same.
Even if the price of my bus ticket wasn’t.
“Bet you can’t even remember which bus to get now,” my mum laughed.
I was back from London and I had a strange panic when I realised that the city centre, once so familiar to me, was different. Something had shifted. There was a new bus stop and I was late for an interview at Manchester City Council.
When I explained that one of my favourite things about Manchester was the buses, someone smirked.
“I’m not joking!” I laughed. “There’s something about them.”
I got the job.
“Here, let that lady sit down.” A mother chided a bouncy toddler. She gestured to me.
Was – was I the lady? I was the grown-up that was allowed to sit. I looked at her slightly confused.
“Kids eh?” she laughed conspiratorially.
I was the age I thought I’d be married by. And yet, here I was. A ‘lady’ on a bus looking frazzled enough to be offered a seat. In the absence of anything else, I laughed.
“I write snippets of this watching the sunset from the top deck of the 192. There’s so much hope on city bus.”
“OK. So, this is my favourite bus.” I gestured to the stop. Someone had kicked the glass out. He’s from Surrey, a small town with winding roads and no city buses.
“No one has a favourite bus.” He snorted.
“Course they do. It’s the equivalent of having a favourite tube line – Northern – of course.” And, as if hearing its name, the 192 pulled up.
“It’s £2.50” The driver said.
“Inflation.” I grinned back.
I have no ideas. The problem? My entire job is now coming up with ideas.
I’ve stared at a wall for over an hour. The panic is rising. I finally give up and take the bus to nowhere. The off licence has closed, it’s flats now. I watch people ambling about, everyone has such purpose.
I think I have an idea.
The walk home takes an hour.
I’m on my way back from her hen do. We laughed at the idea that we’d be married by 25. But here she is, wearing a sash that says ‘Bride to Be’. We talk about the gig and the lost shoe.
“Honestly, I think we spent half of our teenage years on this bloody bus”, she cackles.
I miss bus rides. Driving isn’t the same. It requires too much concentration to people watch. To catch snippets of conversations. My dad used to drive me around in the back seat of his car when I was a kid. I’d be asleep in seconds, there’s something soothing about the bus.
We’re still under lockdown. There’s nowhere to go even if I wanted to leave.
I write snippets of this watching the sunset from the top deck of the 192. There’s so much hope on city bus. A woman in front of me clutches flowers, she’s chatting into a phone and changing in Stockport for Stepping Hill. Her mum is coming out of hospital today. I watch two women in their twenties embrace at a bus stop. Their arms intertwined. They look like hope, personified.
Two teenagers sit behind me, they giggle at nothing. The city is theirs for the taking. As her stop approaches, I watch him freeze. Then he clumsily leans in pulling her up to standing, before she disappears down the stairs of the bus. He watches her, waving frantically as she pauses at the bus stop, grinning.
I understand now, ten years on, what my dad meant.
Love is a lot like a city bus.
Aurelia Magazine is self–funded. We rely on reader support to secure our future. If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a member on Patreon, or donating a couple of quid to our PayPal. Thank you!