Zelda yanked at the shirt, cursing her poor packing efforts. Tight tops were all the rage back home and she had stocked up at the winter sales. The only flowy garments she owned were either long sleeved or too outdated to be considered “retro”. It seemed sensible to load her suitcase with nothing but summer clothing. She couldn’t wait to escape the cold, wet days for sleeveless Mediterranean nights.
Zelda pulled her collar until the familiar sound of stretched elastic pinged. Dressing had become a strategic exercise and an unwelcome education. The deplorable worship of women seemed limitless and a foreign unquenchable fetish for the female form inescapable. An unseasonal heat wave didn’t help her mission to go unnoticed. She could down play her cleavage, but it was impossible to hide her frame without sweating profusely and risking heatstroke. As the bus floated across a narrow bend comfort over consequence was proving costly. Zelda had been failing the art of transparency for some time, but now innocent people were in danger because of it. She murmured the mantra a German tourist had shared with her.
– Never let their gaze linger too long –
Not the most empowering sentence and it could have used a few specifics.
She steadied herself pointlessly, pressing her forehead to the window and watching pebbles crash into the rocky terrain below. The occasional tourist screamed “overload” as the vehicle veered towards their impending doom. Zelda glared at her antagonist in his rear view mirror. For an hour she tried distracting herself from the driver, a vile man old enough to be her father, as he gawked lewdly at her chest rarely bothering to cast an eye on the dusty road. She clawed at her clothing, but with every touch the driver became erratic and the passengers more panicked. Zelda shunted her chest into the backpack and slumped in defeat. A sympathetic tourist offered his seat and gently patted her shoulder, barely holding his own balance as the vehicle violently jerked.
“Bumpy ride! I am Akashinga. Where are you from?” he asked.
“I’m Zelda and Australia,” she answered immediately warming to the man with a welcoming smile.
“Ah, this is good people. I have many friends who have moved there. Good, good. I thought you might be from here.”
“But they think you are, no?”
“I think so, yes. But I doubt it matters to them.”
“Mmm,” he patted her shoulder again and held tightly to a spare space of railing, knuckles ready to burst through his skin. He steadied himself calmly. Zelda sighed. She didn’t have the heart to tell him his kindness had created a bird’s eye view for the perpetrator. Shoving her ear buds deep she pushed manically at the volume until her cheeks vibrated. Her long hair draped chaotically, but with her Zimbabwean guard close Zelda felt something resembling safety. She closed her eyes. It seemed an age since they boarded the bus by the ocean side. Her mouth gaped as the boat disembarked on the shore of the mountain and she marvelled at the commanding landscape. The crew assisting passengers eagerly offered their hands, nudging one another to earn her favour. One twirled Zelda theatrically then pulled her tightly against his body as she looked at him confused.
“Just go with it,” he ordered hotly in her ear as the tourists cheered. Zelda feigned a smile, wrangled her fingers from his tight grip and flicked the backpack over her shoulder. Pouting, he flapped his arms theatrically for the jovial group, then slyly stroked her breast away from their view. The tourists applauded obliviously as Zelda pushed at his hand.
“Fck you,” she hissed.
“Yes please,” said the crewman licking his lips and returning to his duties. Zelda glared at him, stretching at her shirt.
“Think he liked you,” a passenger called out. “Oh to be young again.”
Zelda ignored it and wrapped her arms around her waist.
“You should be so lucky, dear,” said another tourist.
“What? Lucky for being manhandled against my will?”
“What a pessimist. People pay money for that type of attention,” another woman chortled.
“I’m not one of them,” said Zelda.
“What a sour one you are…”
“It’s just a laugh,” called another.
Zelda shook her head and pushed further back in the line. The women took the last remaining seats and flirted loudly with the middle aged bus driver.
“Ticket,” he asked holding a calloused hand out to Zelda. The driver turned from his audience and made a low, unusual grunt. Zelda ignored it and turned to find a seat but he gripped her hand.
“Don’t bother with that one! She’s a prude,” the women called out again.
Zelda pulled herself from the driver whose eyes made no secret of his thoughts. She swung the backpack across his view and clomped down the aisle, wincing at the cackling women who would soon be brought to silence.
On and on the bus swerved and shunted down the narrow road and Zelda knew every jolt, every violence was meant for her. The air was stifling. She tied her hair in the most unflattering style and looked up. The driver stared irately. He was infuriated. Zelda looked down at her backpack. It was working. His view was blocked and she couldn’t help but smirk back, until patrons began to scream.
“Slow down! You’ll kill us all!”
“What is he looking at?” said another.
Zelda froze. She recognised their voices. She wanted to shut her eyes, be invisible, make him and this trip disappear. She wanted to be home, in the lounge room, being scolded by her father about dishes piling up or washing still on the line, anything but this. She felt a sharp nudge on her shoulder.
“Do you know him?” an irate woman demanded.
“Why does he keep looking at you?” another questioned.
“Because he’s a pervert,” Zelda snapped.
“Well, maybe you should do something before he kills us all,” said another. Zelda looked up at the tourist and noticed half the aisle glaring disdainfully. Bile trickled down her throat now coated with the thick, toxic air.
“What do you think I’ve been doing?” she hissed. She wanted to point and scream, push back and watch the lot of them fall down the aisle one by one like rude, obnoxious dominoes. Zelda scowled and stood up abruptly towering over the few women who were forced to stand.
“Move,” she ordered, pushing through the cramped crowd towards the driver who had been watching the scene. He seemed roused by her presence as he licked his lips and greeted her in his language. Zelda looked past him. They had climbed half way up the mountain and were still skimming the loose, rock edge.
“Stop the bus,” Zelda demanded. The driver laughed loudly and continued as if on autopilot.
“No,” he replied in a thick accent. His eyes were shiftless from Zelda’s chest that jiggled with every bump hit with perverted precision. The passengers screamed more accusations at Zelda who for a second imagined them all plummeting to their deaths. She wrapped her hand around the emergency lever and pulled hard. Bits of disintegrating paint and rust flicked waywardly and the vehicle screeched to an unflattering halt.
“Open the fucking door now.”
“No Englaise,” said the driver, grinning maliciously. As his hand came towards Zelda’s chest a large fist brushed the side of her hair, making its mark on the drivers nose. It was the Zimbabwean. His kind, calm demeanour replaced with rage as he pinned the driver with his forearm and pointed to another lever. Zelda’s eyes widened as she turned it and the door flung to the side.
“Thank you so much,” she said breathlessly.
“All okay now, my friend. Go. You go,” he said.
Zelda launched towards him, wrapping her arms half way around his large frame. He laughed softly and patted her head.
“Okay… okay. You’re okay.”
“Seriously. Thank you Akashinga,” she whispered, wiping the tears and sweat dripping from her chin. Zelda turned to exit, but cried out as the driver gouged her breast. His laughter was silenced by one final blow that knocked him unconscious.
A panic wave rippled toward the open doors.
“Go. Now,” Akashinga ordered. Zelda pecked him on the cheek and jumped from the top step to the hard, rocky ground. As she briskly walked off one of the women from the boat heckled from behind.
“You should dress more appropriately in these countries! Look at the trouble you caused!”
Zelda stopped, a myriad of scenarios played out in her head. Go back and slap her? Plant a kiss on her mouth, tell her how easy life must be to a know-all whiner and then slap her? Yell back a string of nasty truths? Or take the high road and just silently walk away?
Zelda peered around the bend where the cliff finally petered out to a wide open clearing. A picturesque meadow sprinkled with wildflowers and olive trees stretched for miles and a warm breeze cooled the sweat that relentlessly dripped between her troublesome breasts. She soaked the moist droplets with her shirt and rubbed at her bruised chest leaving a heart shape. Zelda smiled. She took in the humanless view, raised her middle finger high and walked toward the meadow in silence.