Zig-Zags in the Snow
The bus was nearly empty. It was early afternoon on a November Sunday; there was a lazy feel in the air. That, along with the constant drizzle of rain, resulted in a relatively quiet bus with a few people scattered around the seats.
A young man sat at the very back, a pair of large headphones covering his ears. His eyes were closed and his head bobbed rhythmically to the music he was courteously allowing the people near him to hear.
One of these people was a middle-aged woman carrying two large, overflowing shopping bags. She sat a few seats in front of the young man, seeming a little irritated by the racket emanating from his headphones. She glanced at him a few times, hoping to catch his eye and let him know that she would rather not listen to his music, thank you very much, but his eyes remained closed.
On the seat diagonally across the aisle from the woman was a man. Although his hair had some streaks of grey in it, his face was unusually young and juvenile. His feet tapped subconsciously to the young man’s music.
A few seats further down sat another man. He sported a large, grey trench coat and carried a leather briefcase. He wore large, square tortoiseshell glasses. He had managed to wedge his laptop between his stomach and the back of the seat in front of him and his fingers flew over the keys furiously. Every few minutes, the man stopped typing, raised his left hand to check a large gold watch, looked out the window with a deep scowl and a heavy sigh, then returned to his laptop.
Many seats further from him sat the final passenger in the bus, near the very front. She had a woolen tote bag on her lap and a wooden walking stick balanced between her knees. She wore a snow-white beret, slightly tilted, which made her grey hair seem a little darker. She looked out the window at the rain, at the umbrellas and hooded figures rushing to reach their destinations.
The bus rumbled forward, not picking up any new passengers. It roared past most bus stops. The rain had turned into snow when it screeched to a halt. The doors banged open.
For a moment, nothing happened. A chilly wind rushed into the warm bus and the old woman glanced out the door, watching snowflakes dancing in the wind. Then, a breathless passenger made her way into the bus, searching her pockets for her bus pass. After she had pulled out a packet of chewing gum, a dried maple leaf and a stretch of string, she finally retrieved a battered bus pass for the driver to check. He nodded at it absently, having already started the bus and not wanting to take his eyes off the slippery road.
The new passenger made her way down the aisle of the bus and up the three steps towards the back. She had long, bushy, cinnamon-colored hair which had once been tied into a ponytail. Now, flyaway strands had escaped, surrounding, much like a mane, a small, pale, pixie face with large grey eyes that smiled. She wore an olive green coat and a bright, lemon yellow scarf. Her boots were woolen and soaked through and through, although she seemed to not have noticed.
She passed the man with the trench coat, who was in the looking-out-the-window-and-sighing phase of his continuous cycle, and she looked at his laptop with great interest. She decided to sit behind him in order to see what he was typing.
“Our product has the highest quality of all you may find.” The words appeared on the screen as the man resumed typing. The girl wondered what product he was selling.
“Of all the automatic eggshell crushers out there, ours are the ones who not only meet expectations, but exceed them.” The girl wondered why people would need an eggshell crusher, and how he knew that he had the best of them all. Had he gone around all the eggshell crusher shops, examining their products?
“No longer will pesky eggshells take up space in your garbage can! We understand your needs and work to solve them. Customer satisfaction is most important to us! We make the best eggshell crushers because that is what you truly deserve: the best.” The girl wondered what you had to do in order to deserve the best eggshell crusher.
The man finished typing and closed his laptop with a satisfying thwack. The girl watched as he struggled to pull the laptop out from the small space, and sighed in relief when it finally came out. He stuffed it into his briefcase carelessly, and proceeded to put his briefcase on the seat next to him. Now that he no was no longer typing, his cycle changed to staring at the seat in front of him as if it were a riveting movie, then looking at his watch and out the window, scowling and sighing as before, and finally, continuing to stare at the seat in front of him.
The girl behind him looked at the window, watching snowflakes stick to the glass. If two of them slid down the window at the same time, she cheered the slow one on as if she were watching a race. Outside, everything was covered in a thin blanket of white. The roads were quite empty apart from a few cars here and there, occasionally dappling the white.
The bus trundled forward along a snowy road. In the distance, the hum of a snow scooper could be heard. The layer of snow had thickened considerably, and the woman with the shopping bags and the eggshell crusher salesman had descended from the bus before the girl’s stop arrived. Once again, the bus screeched to a halt and the girl jumped down into a thick patch of snow. As the doors banged shut and the bus made its way forward, she strode along the undisturbed snow. She turned from the main street into smaller lanes. Occasionally, she would veer left and right, looking back to see her zig-zagged footprints and smiling.
A few minutes’ walking got her to a small house near the end of a street. The walls were a soft, lime yellow and the door a light green. A pathway of cobblestone wound from the door and ended at a small metal gate with a small metal handle that needed to be pushed hard. The girl opened the gate with ease. The snow had made the metal colder. She closed the gate behind her and made her way down the path. On either side of her was a small square of grass, now white. On the left side was a large oak tree, its branches bare.
The girl walked zigzag again, her smile broader, eyes shining. She reached the door and pushed the brass handle down. The door opened with a slight squeak and the girl slipped in, shutting the door quietly behind her.
For the first time, the girl’s eyes seemed serious. In the dim light, her smile faded as she took in an indistinct sound of shouting. Quietly, she took off her coat, scarf and soaking wet shoes and bundled them in her arms, almost cradling them with care. In her wet woolen socks, she padded across the carpeted hallway and into a small room.
It was cold and dark in here. On her far left was an unlit fireplace, towards which she went. Kneeling by the hearth, she carefully put her things down. It didn’t take her long to start a fire, and then she laid out her coat, scarf, socks and boots in a line along the hearth.
The sound of shouting continued. She was torn between sitting by the warm fire, warming her cold hands and fleeing upstairs, where the sound did not reach. She stayed by the fire for a few moments. Then, with a slight sigh she stood up and made her way upstairs. The warm air turned stiff and cold as she left the room.
She knew they were in the kitchen, so she stayed as far away from there as possible. As she passed it on her way, she couldn’t help clamping her hands over her ears, but she could hear every word all the same.
“…had to bear with this for years! You never understand–”
“I would understand if you said what you mean, for once, but…”
She walked as fast as she could toward the staircase and ran up the stairs, not bothering to avoid the creaky ones as she usually did.
Up here, it was even colder. There was a large window at the landing which had been left wide open. The chilly breeze made its way inside, making it colder than it already was. She made her way towards it, meaning to close it, but ended up sitting at the window seat. She pulled her feet up, leaning on the pillows arranged against the wall. She pulled one of them on her lap, absentmindedly following with her finger the pattern she had embroidered on it. She shifted her gaze outside, where snow continued to fall.
From this window, she could see the backyard of the house, lined with a little fence that used to be lime green. Another oak tree stood here, with a tyre swing tied to the thickest branch. The rope was old and frayed, but bore weight well all the same.
Near the tree, leaning against the fence, were several folded cardboard boxes. Her eyes rested on them for a moment, then she looked away, trying not to think about what their purpose might be.
Instead, she shifted her gaze from the yard. Beyond the fence was a street, across which were more houses, but it was the small lane which led off from the street which she loved looking at. It was a narrow lane lined with the largest trees she had ever seen. They were old and gnarled, with branches so long that they intertwined with each other, giving the impression that the trees were reaching toward each other. They formed an archway over the lane, leaving only glimpses of the sky showing, and in spring, when the trees flowered, the lane was covered in a carpet of pink and lavender.
She lost track of time sitting there, staring at the old branches weighed down by the weight of snow. It was the sound of footsteps on the stairs which snapped her out of her reverie. She realized she was shivering; her fingers were numb from the cold. She forced herself up and pulled the window shut just as a woman appeared near the top of the staircase.
The woman’s hair matched the girl’s, except that it was tied tightly into a bun. As opposed to the bright clothes the girl wore, the woman donned a dull, grey pinstriped suit. She stopped short when she saw the girl. Her expression was wary.
“Jane. When did you get here?” Her voice was sharp and slightly nasal.
The girl tried to keep her expression blank. “A while ago.”
For a moment, the woman seemed to be wavering about what to say next. The question she wanted to ask was, ‘How much did you hear?’ but instead, she settled on, “Why is it so cold here?”
“The window was left open.”
The woman nodded, suddenly brusque. “Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
She walked up the remaining steps and marched into one of the rooms. For a moment, Jane didn’t know what to do. After a moment’s thought, she decided it was best to stay as far away from both her mother and father as possible at the moment. She settled back down on the window seat, looking at the lane, imagining herself walking zigzags along it.
© Sohini Kumar