The coolness of the early morning is deceptive; the sun has barely risen and this altitude is always cooler. My destination is low down and deep into the interior, well away from the onshore winds. When I get there the heat of that region will make my kitchen on baking day seem like a friendly warmth instead of the inferno it always is. So when I see the bus pull in, an old model with worse suspension than a homemade pram, my heart sinks. Once the temperatures spikes that tin can's gonna stink worse than a half-time locker room. Then some infant will puke and and old man will puff on some homemade blend of tobacco. These buses have one rule – sit down and keep your mouth shut or get off. Well, that is the rule unless you have more brawn than the driver, then you can say whatever the hell you like. That's not me though, skinny girls like me sit and try to blend into the never washed seats with faces pointed at the window and never catching anyones eye. If I can manage to look sickly so much the better... no-one wants to get sick where we're going... no doctors, no hospitals, and no police that isn't bought and paid for by the local mobsters.
The bus stops, the driver pulls the doors open by hand and stands to take the money – crinkled notes and pockets of coin. I spy the tires, bald. The paintwork is barely a hint of white under the the thick red dust of the region. The windscreen has only a section clear to see through, the rest is baked on dirt. This clanker is older than the driver and he looks like he's living on borrowed time too. He's no bouncer that's for sure; time to pull my hood right over my head. Mamma begged me not to go this year, but she knows I must, every year to the same spot with a single rose that lies wrapped in damp cloth in my shoulder bag.
The countryside passes like a bad movie I've seen too many times before. I can't think how long I've been on this bus. We left the monotony of the highway behind a long time ago and now the heat and the bumps of these unmade roads are lulling me into an uneasy sleep. My thoughts become random, crazy really, sometimes faces from last week and sometimes bizarre like a marvel movie. But never comes the face I want to see, Caspian, my brother. His face comes only in deepest dreams, handsome as ever, laughing, teasing, eating all the chicken and holding a drumstick over my head.
I'm glad the I don't dream of him now though, because that dream always ends in the same nightmare. But unlike everyone else I know, when I wake I remember that my nightmare was both real and worse than the fragmented reenactment my brain offers . Instead of relief on waking I get the trauma made fresh and raw. I get to see Caspian screaming at me to run as he pulled an inadequate eight inch blade from his faded jeans. How grown up he'd seemed at seventeen, how young that seems now. But no matter how many times the nightmare comes, I welcome it the next time again, hope for it even... because the beginning is the only time I will ever be with him, hear his laughter and bask in the warmth of smile I took for granted every single day of the short time I had a brother.
Then from the back of the bus comes a wail from a kid, not that I care. It's amazing the things you can shut out on a long trek like this. Things that would drive you crazy on a two hour trip are just expected on an all day journey – of course kids are going to cry, of course someone will throw up, of course someone will smoke something pungent and acrid. That's the way it is, twelve hours in a wheeled can with these human shaped beings who don't care if my next breath is my last and no Caspian, not ever again.
***The story isn't complete, this next bit is after the bus has arrived and she's walking ***
Each year I wear the same shoes just for this journey. Once white they are now rusty brown with dust and the soles are as worn as my own. The laces trail on the ground, over-long as they are and frayed like some old goat-tether. With each step I watch the lace flop in its random pattern, random and predictable at the same time. I alter each footfall just a little to watch the effect, anything to not think about where I'm heading, where I will be when there are no more steps to take... I'm sure behind me are soft prints in the dust, slight movements of grit and stone that prove I am really here on this path... but I walk this path every night when I close my eyes and part of me thinks I am still in my bed with the regular chores waiting for me – fetch the water, grind the grains, bake the bread. The smells are making it real though, this dust has an aroma of its own and it transports me back to childhood so fast I think if I do look back the imprints of my slow steps will be too small for the adult I am now and too light for the woman I have become.
I know my journey is coming to an end when the warehouse is in front of me. I should have expected it. The houses gave way to empty barren road a full twenty minutes ago and the verge became more of a junkyard than the junkyard. The old machinery lines the road covered in dirt and scavenged into skeletons of whatever they were. I force my mind back into the present so I can take in its form. Still it has the curved roof like an aircraft hanger and the walls are corrugated tin. The broken tarmac around it is empty except for a forklift – it must be in use again, just like it was all those years ago. There is something new this year, a chain-link fence surrounds it. I don't care though, there isn't anything that would keep me out, it's just a matter of time before I am within the walls. It's not as brave as it sounds though, at this hour of day everyone is sleeping somewhere cool, even the thieves – so the chance of there being some guard on duty is pretty much nil.
***I haven't written the part of how she gets into the warehouse yet, this last bit is actually the first bit of the story I wrote***
The hessian sacks are dusty; in the total heat that bakes me from the inside out I can taste it. In any humidity I would be dripping with sweat, soaked like I'd just jumped in the lake at our old summer house, but in this utter dryness I'm desiccating just to exhale. Perhaps you'd think I don't want to be here, in a heat more oppressive than our new government - how quickly the revolutionaries take to the sweetness of power. But you'd be wrong. I've travelled all day to this very spot. Thirty years ago Caspian stood here, Caspian, my brother. This is where he told the gang they couldn't have his sister and told me to run fast and not look back.
I don't know how long he lasted, how long they made him last, but there was very little left to bury. So here I stand with a limp white rose in my hand. I close my eyes, reach out with the flower that is already loosing petals and will him to come out of the darkness and take it. I want to open my eyes to see his black hair hanging over his left eye like it always did, I want to see the half smile he used when he teased me about being short and skinny. Most of all I want to go back in time and make my stand with Caspian, die with him instead of living without a heart beating in my chest.
Now though... now there is no choice at all. He died so I could live, so live I must. Still with eyes shut I release my grasp on the stem that already feels like week old asparagus. Just for a fleeting moment I think I can hear my name called in his newly dropped voice, echoing softly and I feel the composure I have built up over the past week evaporate. My face buckles like some kid being left at daycare for the first time, my arms move up and down on their own in jagged moments and my legs refuse to hold my weight. Now the hessian sacks press into my face leaving their weave in my skin, an imprint of yesteryear, an impartial witness to my utter undoing...