I stand among the groups of middle-aged parents lining the pavement beside the bus that contains their beloved offspring. Excited faces scattered with acne and over-zealous make-up press against glass, or turn away, sharp haircuts bobbing as they talk fast and laugh with friends.
I pick out your window. You sit politely, neatly, long curls hanging round your shoulders. Your father’s nose side-on to my view. You do that thing you do with your glasses, where you push them up your face with the back of your hand. I have never seen anyone else do this, apart from my mother.
I tell myself that you are not leaving forever. You are not my mother. You are just going off to adventures, and experiences. You will come back. Yet, my insides feel the same way as they did when I lost her.
Your long lashes loll like fronds as you bend down to retrieve a paperback from your holdall. I wonder if you have packed the bunny that has sat on your bed since I brought you home from the hospital, the yellow blanket wrapped tightly around you. My grasp onto your perfect form even tighter.
Your friend taps you on the shoulder and you stretch your arms to hug her. She bounces down beside you. Your face is hidden from me now as you turn to talk to her.
Other parents are milling around in groups, talking to one another, shouting to their offspring if they have their this, their that. I don’t shout messages to you. I just watch, this last, lingering, private moment.
The engine starts, rumbling loudly and spitting out cancerous fumes from its large exhaust. You face back toward the front and pop a red sweet into your mouth, making your cheek plump. A faint cheer goes up from inside the bus, and some of the still malingering parents’ cheer, too.
You turn your head at last. Look surprised that I am still standing there, alone and apart from the crowd.
And you smile. Genuine, happy, relaxed. You raise your slender arm to wave.
I raise mine too, mechanically, try to smile back as honestly as I can.
And then the bus pulls away from the curb and you turn back to your friend. You have already dropped your hand. You are already miles away.
And though I tell myself you will return, you are not gone forever, I walk back towards my car knowing that my home will be quiet, and things will be as I left them. I know that there will be no smell of body spray clogging the bathroom; no dirty underwear on the floor; nobody playing loud pop-songs into the night.
And I know that the world – my world – has shifted slightly, into the unknown.
***Kate is a freelance writer based in the UK who writes articles, including regular contributions to online women’s magazine Skirt Collective, as well as publishing life writing and poetry both in print and online. She has a passion for flash fiction and short stories, and is usually found lurking around coffee shops, writing and listening to other people’s conversations. Jones has also become a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine, and is a 2016 nominee for the Pushcart Prize through Sick Lit Magazine.***
She blogs at www.writerinresidenceblog.wordpress.com.
Find Kate on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/katejonespp
*Photography courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*