As a sleepy town in rural Ireland starts to wake, a road subsides, trapping an early-morning bus and five passengers inside. Rescue teams struggle and as two are eventually saved, the bus falls deeper into the hole.
Under the watchful eyes of the media, the lives of three people are teetering on the edge. And for those on the outside, from Nina, the reporter covering the story, to rescue liaison, Tim, and Richie, the driver pulled from the wreckage, each are made to look at themselves under the glare of the spotlight.
When their world crumbles beneath their feet, they are forced to choose between what they cling to and what they must let go of.
Afterwards, those at a comfortable distance will wonder if something small might have made all the difference. If they hadn’t all been sitting at the back of the bus, say, the weight distribution or the force of the impact might have changed just enough. A fool and his theory are hard parted. It is human nature, maybe, to shiver in the unknown interplay of physics and fate and the delicious horror of being thisclose yet thisfar. There will be much talk of meaningful everyday choices, about destiny and free will, but those comments are twenty-four hours away yet. The talk-radio shows that will draw them out are only in the early stages of their planning. Their schedules contain nothing more urgent than weather, reality programming, the endless cycle of politics. Nothing can change the fact of the handful of early-morning passengers climbing on and moving towards the back of the bus. Pushed there – shamefully, inadmissibly – by the presence of the muttering woman pacing the aisle. The driver knows her, it seems, but that is not in itself remarkable: everyone in the small town of Kilbrone knows Crazy May. She haunts the bus yard in the mornings. Keeping the bins company, the drivers 3 say among themselves, although they know it is simply because fewer people bother her there. Some of them put the run on her, it’s true, but most turn a blind eye, let her ride for free. Today’s driver nods May on as she waves someone else’s out-of-date bus pass, dug from a bin or a bag or who knows where. They swing down the hill, just the two of them, and onto the ring road towards the start of the route without bothering one another. She never stays on for more than two or three stops. Just long enough to warm her bones after the night’s cold. Never further than the boundaries of her own small world. At the first stop, several others get on and sidle past her without making eye contact. Afraid of her low growl. Her dirty plait of hair. Haircuts are only a memory for May, part of a normality fallen by the wayside long since. The others know – as rational humans, of course they know – that homelessness, dirt, madness, are not catching. Yet they will not risk her presence, lest her life leak into theirs. One by one they file on and put enough distance between them and her to feel safe. It is biology, this choice they make, not physics at all. That is what the armchair engineers will never be able to account for. The bus is quieter after May gets off. People catch each other’s eye and smile and settle into the stop-start rhythm of the bus as it takes the bends towards the centre of town. The traffic is light, they are a good hour ahead of the morning scramble. The driver keeps the pace steady, reaching each stop right on schedule. Is there a slight popping sound as the bus leans into the curve of the bend? Or is that simply put there later, imagined into being by well-meaning bystanders? When the floor of the world disappears, the noise it 4 makes is surprisingly small. Like nothing so much as the metallic splash of a handful of cutlery, fresh from the dishwasher, into the drawer. The bus hovers for a blink before it falls. Fast and clumsy, the road melting away to let it pass through to the nothingness below. Help will be here shortly, they probably think, as they cough dust out or pull it in. Or perhaps it is some other cliché that comes to mind. At such a moment, even clichés are forgivable. Wait for the dust to settle. Keep your feet on the ground. Weigh it up. Suck it up. Sit tight. A thousand and one ways to say: do nothing; say nothing; pretend. This too shall pass. Chance knows no such limits.
Thank you, Gráinne Murphy and Legend Press
About the author
Gráinne grew up in rural west Cork, Ireland. At university she studied Applied Psychology and forensic research. In 2011 she moved with her family to Brussels for 5 years. She has now returned to West Cork, working as a self-employed language editor specialising in human rights and environmental issues.