The small table clock bellowed with its usual tone as its arms ticked 6.00 am in the morning and Bertha reluctantly hit the clock to shut it down. Forcing herself to wake up, she strode through her usual way out of her room to the kitchen where her eyes caught upon the note stuck on the fridge.
“Aunt Gabby isn’t keeping well and I am off to meet her. I will be late. Take little Cindy along with you and drop her at the nursery. Take the public bus. Have kept money in the cupboard. Love Mom”
Bertha stared at her mother’s hurried writing and let out a sigh as she read the words ‘Take the public bus’. Bertha never liked the idea of travelling to her school in a bus solely because that would mean a walk of extra ten minutes from the stop to her school.
“Bertha isn’t this out first time out alone! Would you take me to the ice cream parlor?” asked little Cindy sounding excited to her elder sister. Bertha smiled at her “The ice cream parlor won’t be open at this hour Cindy. I’ll get you one while coming back home.”
Hand in hand Bertha and Cindy walked the alleyway and reached the bus stop. The bus arrived a little late than usual. ‘I am getting late for sure’ Bertha thought, as she and Cindy boarded the bus.
Almost all seats of the bus were taken and Bertha noticed only one seat that was empty and could be occupied apart from those empty ones reserved for the older and handicapped. Quickly she allowed Cindy to take the seat and she herself stood beside her.
Bertha noticed that the conductor was average tall, dark, his hair curled up awkwardly at places, his beard looked shabby and thick and his uniform neat. Bertha felt a weird chill as she noticed him.
Few moments later, Bertha held out the ticket fare to him and asked for a ticket.
The conductor’s eyes lingered shamelessly on little Cindy. His eyes she noticed would trace Cindy entirely from head to toe.
The conductor repeated his act again and Bertha stood there puzzled with mixed feelings of disgust, fear and anger as she clenched her fist impulsively.
“Half ticket for the little one too” he said smiling with his brows raised.
“Oh!…Sure” Bertha sighed. Sounding more of a relief than disbelief.
‘Appearances can be deceptive’ she thought.