He parks up and toots his arrival. After a minute a woman appears, pulling the outer door behind her. Not slamming it or letting it swing closed, but deliberately holding the handle until the door fills the frame. He thinks it would have made no noise, had he been standing close enough to hear. She has two suitcases so he gets out to open the boot for her. More likely to tip that way he finds.
He sees her knuckles are white from the tightness of her grip on the suitcase handles and she is reluctant to let go. He takes them from her, a blue battered case with a broken wheel and a smaller one that rattles and things move round inside as he lifts it. One contains her clothes, the other her things, he thinks. He has seen this too many times.
She perches on the edge of the rear seat and as he gets in he says, “You’ll have to sit back love, and put your belt on.” She doesn’t move. “Your seatbelt? I can’t go until you put it on. It’d be my licence see.” He watches her as she shuffles back and to the side and clunks her belt into place. He sees the missing buttons on her coat, the old shoes.
“Cheers love,” he says as he turns and grabs his own seat belt. “Now, where to?” He glances into the mirror and looks at her. She is staring out of the window and whispers, “Station” and adds nothing else.
“Going away somewhere?” the driver asks. He doesn’t expect a reply but persists anyway. “Holiday maybe or visiting family?” The mirror shows him she is still looking out of the window or perhaps she is sleeping. He can’t tell for sure because she wears big sunglasses that cover her eyes and all around them. “I’m going on holiday soon,” he says and tells her about his plans.
“My wife wanted to go to Spain and I wanted Greece so we tossed a coin for it. If we can’t decide on anything we take turns or toss a coin or draw straws. My life would be hell if I made her do something she didn’t want to. Not that I’d ever want to,” he adds as he senses her shiver behind him. In the mirror he can see her gather her coat and scarf further up round her neck.
“Rough night love?” he says.
“No worse than usual.”
“Too much red wine was it?” He chuckles at his own joke.
“No, he never drinks wine. Stella, I think. Something strong.”
“We’re nearly there love,” he says. And as he draws up at the kerb outside the station, softly “Are you OK?”
She undoes her seatbelt, opens the door and gets out. He does the same and joins her at the boot. He pops it open and they both reach for a suitcase. Her head is down and her glasses fall off, so he sees black bruises around one eye. There are yellowing bruises around the other and a split in her eyebrow. She picks up her glasses and before replacing them, turns to face him.
“No, but I will be.”
She puts her glasses on, pays him the fair and joins the crowd in the station.