|"You're so borriinnng" Julie taunted.
Sarah flushed, and stammered a reply. "Just because I don't want to do what you want to do, that doesn't mean I'm boring."
"Oh come on, Sarah. How often have I asked you?! Just come with me to the Mall - just once. We won't stay for long and you can catch the bus from there, and be home long before your mom gets home from work. Don't be such a wet blanket all the time," Julie voice changed from cajoling, to pleading, to irritation as she saw the indecision play across Sarah’s face. It worked.
"Okay," she sighed, "Just this once." She smiled tremulously as Julie jumped up and down in excitement, and then the bell rang for them to go back into class. "See you at the gate after school then," Julie called out as they went their own way to their separate classes.
At the end of the school day, the two girls met at the gate. Julie was a bubbly, outgoing 12 year old, just four months older than Sarah, who was more quiet and reserved. Julie's family were well off, both parents worked and because Julie had so much time on her own, she lived for going to the Mall, shopping and trying on clothes that she might never wear. Sarah, on the other hand, lived with her mother and younger brother, and there was never money to spare. She usually went home in the afternoons and helped her brother with his homework, and helped prepared dinner. She never went to the Mall at all, except with her Mom and younger brother very occasionally. She'd never been on her own and technically, she thought as they walked the six blocks to the Mall, she wasn't going on her own now - she was going with Julie, though she knew in her heart of hearts, that her Mom wouldn't accept that explanation. She would just make sure she got home before her Mom, and turned her attention back to Julie.
"My mom's also told me not to go to the Mall during the week, and if you didn't come with me, I wouldn't have been able to go, and there's this adorable little bunny jacket I want to try on. And we can even have a milkshake," Julie prattled on. "How much money do you have?" She asked suddenly.
"Oh. I only have enough for my bus fare," Sarah replied, flustered.
"That's okay," said Julie kindly, "I have enough, I think".
The two girls walked arm in arm into the Mall, made their way around the various boutiques and large clothing stores, trying on clothes and giggling the hours away. Finally they sat down at the Milky Lane and Julie ordered two milkshakes, chocolate for her, and strawberry for Sarah.
“Didn’t you just love those blue denims? They looked so cool on you, Sarah.” Julie said, still caught up in the excitement of the afternoon.
“I did, and that pink jacket you loved is so you. “Sarah laughed, making big round eyes at Julie. As she slurped the last of her milkshake, she looked at her watch.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed, “It’s ten to four. I’m going to miss my bus.” And she grabbed up her school bag and started running, Julie close on her heels. She could feel tears prickling her eyes. This was the last bus that left from school, the one that dropped off all the students that had stayed at school for sports events. She would never make the six blocks back to school. Her heart was pounding, her chest tight and she was gasping for air as she rounded the last corner, and saw her bus already pulling away, three blocks ahead. She stopped, her small body heaving with exertion, and panic. Tears threatened again and she dropped her schoolbag on the ground. Behind her, Julie came clattering up.
“Oh no, oh no, Sarah, I’m so sorry. What are you going to do now?” She was also winded and stopped, dropping her bag from her shoulder and resting her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.
“I don’t know,” replied Sarah.
They were silent for a few moments while Sarah held back those tears. Julie twisted her plait around her finger as she was wont to do when she was nervous or uncertain.
“Uh…. We could go back to my house and then your Mom could come fetch you?” Julie offered. She lived within walking distance, whereas Sarah lived a good few miles from the school.
“No, she doesn’t have a car. We don’t have a car. We’re just used to catching the bus to the Mall.”
“Well, there you go then,” Julie exclaimed. “What number is it? You can just catch the same bus home. Those are public service buses. They run all the time.”
Hope caught in Sarah’s chest. Maybe she could. She was sure it was bus no. 23, or was it 32? She always mixed her letters around. Julie hoisted her bag up on to her shoulder again, and pulled at Sarah’s sleeve.
“Come on! You don’t want to miss that one too,” She laughed, relieved now that they had the solution. They walked together back to the Mall, and to the bus station, Sarah mulling over the correct no. of the bus. Within two minutes of them reaching the bus station, the no 32 bus pulled up, and Sarah boarded,
“Um, is this the bus to Waverley Street?” she started asking the bus driver, but before he could answer her, someone behind her, pushed at her.
“Hurry up. We’d also like to get on. Why don’t you catch the school buses that are allocated to you?” the old harridan behind her exclaimed, carrying far too many parcels and pushing Sarah down the aisle of the bus. Sarah, red faced, had no choice but to move down the bus, and sit hoping that this was the right bus. She kept her eye on the road, looking for landmarks. They had ridden this way so often she was sure she knew the way. Ahead of them was another bus, the no. 23 and as she watched, it turned left - they way that they should be going, but this bus didn’t follow it. It went straight, and Sarah’s heart sank. Oh no, this was the wrong bus! Should she get off, or stay on? Indecision kept her seated for a few more blocks. Then as the bus pulled over at the next bus station, Sarah leapt to her feet.
“This is my stop” she called out, and hurried to get off the bus. As she watched the bus pull off, she wished she was back on it. The only familiar thing she knew.
Taking a deep breath she walked back up the road, to the same intersection where she had seen no. 23 turn left. She continued walking.
If I can just keep going along this road, I’ll remember where the bus goes, and then I’ll get home. I have to get home before Mum though, otherwise she’ll worry.
Sarah plodded along, her school bag getting heavier and heavier with each block. Her shoe was rubbing a blister, and she was so thirsty. And now nothing looked familiar any more.
“Climb every mountain, ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”
She sang the words over and over again – a mantra, to keep the tears from falling, though every now and then a tear trickled down her cheek. She looked at every house, down every road, looking for any kind of landmark, anything that she might recognize. She was too scared to look at her watch. The change in temperature told her it was getting later, the sun was just on the horizon, and she was lost!
She didn’t know where she was. She wanted to sit down on the side of the road, and howl. She wanted her mother, and she wanted her warm home, and she wanted her brother, even with all his nagging at her. The street lights came on automatically and she knew it was five thirty. She just wanted to be home! And now the tears ran, blinding her as she limped along. She wasn’t even looking for landmarks now. She didn’t like being out in the dark. She was just walking along, blindly, sobbing, feeling the pain in her shoulder from her bag, and the excruciating pain from the blisters with each step she took.
A dog barked closed by, and she jumped. She was scared of dogs! And she finally took in her surroundings. She knew that house – that dog. She knew where she was! Elation overwhelmed her. Relief eased the pain, and she started running - running the last block home. She ran up the stairs to their apartment. Nothing could stop her. Nothing could catch her. She was home.
She pushed open the front door, and her mother came through from the kitchen, her hair disheveled in the way it was when her mom was worried.
“Thank goodness you’re home! Where have you been?”, her tone changed to concern at she took in Sarah’s face, the rivulets of tear marks running down her dusty cheeks.
“Oh darling,” she said softly, folding her arms around her daughter.
“Oh Mum, I was lost!” she wailed, and burst into tears again, lost once more but this time, in the comfort of her mother’s warm embrace.