By Nkatha Obungu

It was an ordinary bus that she made her get-away in. An ordinary, red bus with cramped seating and dusty flooring.  That was a little disappointing. Whenever she envisioned this scene, the bus had always seemed a bit surreal. It had never occurred to her that she would be working on a tight budget and would not even blink at having to squeeze into an economy-class bus. An old man shuffled in and took the seat next to her, muttering to himself. She tried to edge away from him as far as she could but the seat was too small to allow much movement. ‘Thank God for small mercies though,’… she thought as she eased open the window next to her seat. A humid breeze fluttered in and for just that one moment she believed that this was perfection.

Running away was not what she called what she was doing at the moment. Running sounded cowardly, inept; a preserve for murderers and fugitives. She preferred to think of herself as leaving before the world left her. One lesson she had come to learn earlier on was that people always left. Even life had a way of going and leaving in its wake, a trail of misery and dredges of unbearable problems. And so she had decided to leave her old life behind before her youth passed and she was left trapped in the grimy old town that had been the only home that she had ever known. In her thinking, it was better to live fast and die young than die a slow painful death that took 80 years in that grimy old town where everyone knew everything about you; down to the last detail of which midwife had attended your mother at birth.

The intimacy of it all drove her crazy; she craved the blessed anonymity that a large city could offer; just once she wanted to walk down a street and not bump into someone who wanted her to pass all her love to her ailing grandmother; she wanted to walk into a shop and buy groceries without having to explain which new recipe her mamma wanted to try out next; just once she wanted to be a mere face in the crowd. For someone who had been brought up amid niceties, she hated small talk; loathed the people she couldn’t snub when she walked down the street. Perhaps it was because the familiar faces unfailingly reminded her of her inevitable fate if she made the same decisions that her parents and their parents before them had made.

Her parents. The thought of them unexpectedly drew a twinge of raw guilt from somewhere deep within; a place which had housed her conscience; a conscience which in turn, she thought had died a long time ago.  The thought of leaving them bewildered with no clue as to her whereabouts or as to her reason of leaving almost tormented her but she shrugged it off. She was good at shrugging things off, her slowly awakening conscience commented. ‘No,’ she admonished it; she was merely practical and did not let foolish sentimentality get in the way of her dreams. Her parents were good people. They were simple, unremarkable good people.

Her father was the only mechanic in town and was in charge of fixing up the trucks that carried agricultural produce from the many farms around her home to the large city factories. It was the only auto-repair shop in town. Commercial competition wasn’t exactly conducive to good neighbourliness and no one wanted to sully their name by being a bad neighbor. Her mother in turn was a housewife who dabbled in Sunday school teaching. She was a socialite in the eyes of their neighbours. “Some socialite,” the devil on her shoulder snorted.

She was the only child and had been exposed to books and films at an early age. However, instead of training her to be the civilized marriageable young woman they had hoped, it had showed her a life different from the one she knew. It had showed her the possibilities; the adventures that existed beyond their town; simply put she wanted to be remarkable. Her thoughts turned to the letter she had left them on her pillow. It was poetic; for she was poetic at heart and read; “It was either this or suicide. Don’t come looking for me. Goodbye” She thought it expressed her sentiments eloquently without sounding like a broken record. She did not want her parents to think that this was just another bout of teenage angst. Heaven knew she had already had enough of those. It was the reason her parents did not want her to attend college in the city. Their vision for her was attending a local college and earning a diploma in business management. To them, that was the epitome of progression. They often remarked how lucky her husband would be.  From the host of dumb boys her age, she doubted that she wanted to make any of them the ‘lucky’ object of her affections; now or in the future. Her parents had thought her difficult because she failed to accept the status quo. They had even grounded her last month for being disrespectful. The thought of that argument strengthened her resolve. She had definitely made the right decision.

Suddenly, the ordinary bus lurched violently. It wasn’t one of those one-off lurches that scare passengers into abusing the driver’s carelessness. This was a protracted lurch that sent the world spinning out of control. Screams pierced her eardrums as the window next to her shattered to pieces and went flying all over her. She felt her head hit the ceiling of the bus and as if on cue, a warm wetness spread on her forehead. Something was clamping her chest and torso. She felt snapping from within her body but she couldn’t be too sure. Her vision was fading fast and a brilliant whiteness was enveloping her, overcoming her will to stay alive and lucid. So this was how death felt. She wondered why she was struggling because the other side seemed so much more comfortable to cross over to. She wanted to shut out the screams, the excruciating pain in her chest, the glass in her eyes and mouth; she wanted to leave behind her shattered bleeding skull.

Her last thought was that she would have no gravestone; she would probably rot as an anonymous body in some municipal mortuary. As her life ebbed away, she conjured up an image of which epitaph she would have liked to have at her gravestone. It was scrawled in a diary inside the backpack she had been holding just a minute ago. A backpack that held secret admission and acceptance letters to the university in the city as well as secret scholarship applications. Inside a diary that no one would ever find was written: “Here lies a girl; who dared to defy life.”