The bus was late again. This wasn’t unusual and she didn’t mind at all. The sooner it arrived, the sooner she’d have to start work and that could wait. If only it was a bit warmer.
The mist still hadn’t shifted and that made her feel sad. This time of year usually did, but something had changed in the last month that she couldn’t quite explain. She shivered, drawing her collar higher up. Sighing, looking at her watch again, she shifted her position against the bus shelter seat that wasn’t a seat. It was more like a shelf that you had to prop up against. At her age, she could have done with a proper sit down.
She smiled. At her age, she shouldn’t be working at all, in which case she could be back in her cottage in front of the fire. Life hadn’t quite worked out as planned, though, had it?
She stood up, trying to stamp some warmth into her legs. She turned, glancing at the notices someone had taped to the scarred plastic windows in the shelter. Two new homemade posters begged for help in finding missing cats. Peachy and Sparky. One black, one white. Ebony and Ivory, she hummed.
The older posters carried other photographs. Missing: Jakob Drewes, 23, from Bonn. Last seen, 17/01/18 on the Borders Towers Way near Scarrigg Water. And, next to the fading photograph of the German student, his friendly, bearded face fading as the seasons bleached the printer ink, another face. Missing – Aylie Liddel, 17, from Galashiels. Last seen walking near the bus stop at the Sentinel Stone, February 2019.
She sniffed. The hopes that these folk had, desperate to see their loved ones again. She had felt like that once, long ago. She remembered putting notices up, full of expectation and terror, checking every day for months that her posters could be seen. She had walked the paths around the village and beyond the valley every other day, terrified of missing a call from the Police but fearful of doing nothing but wait. That’s when she had started going to The Hoppringle. At first, it was to talk with the landlord, John, to see if there was any news. Then, to talk with the customers to see if they could help her; locals mostly but with hillwalkers and cyclists regularly visiting. No-one ever had any news of any use. Visiting more frequently, she had become a regular herself without realising. After a few months, John had asked if she needed work, with money not coming in any more. Her job there had now lasted a little over fifteen years. And still, she had no news. Or, rather no news that anyone sane would believe.
The Hoppringle Inn was one of the best old pubs in the county. Everyone said so. At least two hundred years old – the souvenir T-shirts and mugs claimed 400 years – the pub was a sturdy stone building, two storeys tall and cosy in winter with the fires burning. Halfway along the Towers Way, the pub had become increasingly popular with walkers and cyclists and less so with locals. Nothing to do with the influx of strangers and more to do with drink driving checks and the smoking ban, there was still a loyal following of Borders who still visited regularly. Real Ales, dogs welcomed and football barred, she loved it. John’s only concession to the outside world was a jukebox and a fading Saltire fluttering outside, the word Yes printed across it. Were it not for these intrusions, the pub could be a hundred years ago. That’s what folk said.
She shivered again. Where the hell was the bus? It was definitely getting colder. She took out her mobile, wondering whether to call John. The wind picked up, her coat flapped around her legs and she tightened her belt, hugging her arms together and hopping from foot to foot. No cars had passed on the road for some time. She wondered if Alasdair would be on his way soon. Or, maybe, Mary. Either would be able to give her a lift, as the pub quiz would be sure to include them both. It usually did.
It was beginning to get dark, now. The bus stop was in an exposed spot, overlooking the river valley. The dry stane dykes that lined the verges on either sign of the road providing a bit of a shelter, but this was a bitterly cold place to have to wait. The Hawthorns and Scots Pines that managed to grow here were more twisted and stunted than elsewhere, showing their shared history of storms and high winds that blew along the valley. Only gorse seemed happy here, and the rough, shaggy grass that grew in strange waves and bumps on the ground. Too far outside the village to be useful to most, she normally had the shelter to herself. Only occasionally did anyone from Calzeanie Farm use the stop, preferring their pick ups or ATVs to the infrequent buses.
She began to think that maybe she should retrace her steps, back down the hill and home. She could call John and explain. He’d understand. She turned round, unsure of what to do next. Her eye caught the face of Jakob Drewes, 23, from Bonn. Glancing again at his poster, an email address begged for information to be sent to Helmut and Suzie Drewes.
Oh, Helmut, Oh, Suzie. That’s not going to happen, is it, loves? Not now. She had received no good news fifteen years ago and nor, now, would they. Eventually, she was sure, they would move beyond grief but they would never be able to understand what had happened to poor, handsome, friendly Jakob. Nobody could possibly understand. Except the Shelly Coat, of course. The Shelly Coat knew why, when and where. But would never tell.
The red and cream bus was announced by the sound of hissing breaks, bringing her back to the present. She climbed aboard, nodding her usual greeting to Tam the driver. Wearily, she sat down, thinking of the Hoppringle and the work that awaited.