Elna Holst © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Malmö, Sweden, 1996
She had managed to get a stain on herself, first thing. Fiffi huffed, letting the doors of the bus stay open as she brought out a wet wipe from her holdall to clean herself off. A passenger in one of the front seats glared at her, a man in his fifties, dressed in a camel-hair overcoat and looking much too posh to be travelling on the bus in the first place. She smiled sweetly at him.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get you there on time.”
The man’s mouth fell open. Oh, Fiffi knew the type. He probably had never considered her as a fellow human being in the first place, capable of deduction, of speech—no, she was a means to an end, a handy, robotic servant. A bus driver.
Well, that last bit was true.
She started up the engines again and prepared to pull out from her stop at Stortorget, where the huge Christmas tree had already been put up in the middle of the square, when someone knocked maniacally at the half-closed doors, a voice crying out, “Miss, Miss!”
Miss? In her initial confusion, Fiffi wondered exactly what she had missed, but as the doors slid open to let on a gangly, startlingly handsome boy wearing squeaky-clean, cherry-red baseball shoes and a jersey with the faded lettering NYU, it dawned on her that he might have been addressing her; he might have been speaking English. Miss. She almost laughed. Helter-skelter, she felt as if she had been thrown onto the set of some quaint costume drama, like Helena Bonham Carter in her (guilty secret) favourite film: A Room with a View, based on the novel by E.M. Forster. Not that she’d read the novel. Truth was, since she had been let out of the prison of compulsory education, she rarely opened a book.
“Thanks.” The boy pushed his geeky-looking, broad-rimmed specs up his forehead and wiped a light sheen of sweat off his face. “Phew, I thought I’d missed ya.”
More miss-ing, but yes: definitely anglophone. American, even. Fiffi couldn’t bring herself to speak. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand what he was saying—she did, and she could answer him, theoretically. In her head, she spoke a smooth, flawless (well, irreproachable, at least) variant of English, though when she opened her mouth to pronounce the words they had a tendency to come out heavily accented. But the language barrier wasn’t really the problem. It was…
“I am going to be late for a very important meeting. I will file a complaint, just so you know.” Camel-hair’s face had gone an unpleasant shade of ruddy crimson. His jowls were shaking. His watery eyes levelled her with a spiteful stare.
“Oh!” Fiffi started. She felt odd, she felt—not right. “Jag måste köra nu.” She turned to the boy—the man—the… she didn’t know what to call him; he was her age, she was pretty sure, and most days she wasn’t sure what to call herself either. Girl-woman. Woman-girl. Had she just spoken Swedish at him? “Shit.”
The American grinned, showing off an even row of pearly whites. Fiffi tried to stop her jaw from dropping. He really had the most dazzling, prepossessing, downright sexy smile.
“We need to go, I get it. Here—” He searched through his jeans pocket, coming up with the required change to pay his fare. “—will this do?”
Fiffi nodded dumbly. The boy seized his ticket from out the machine and… winked at her!
She dropped the wet wipe she was still holding onto the floor, in between the large pedals of the bus, and swooped down to pick it up, knocking her forehead on the front side panel in the process.
“För i helvete—”
The American was gone. It was only old Camel-hair, throwing a temper tantrum. Fiffi was on the verge of sticking out her tongue at him but thought better of it. She was a grown-up; she was twenty-one. She had her own job, a licensed one, even, and, in a few days’ time, she would have her very own flat. It was only a bedsit, but still. She would not let herself get provoked into behaving like a child. Fiffi stepped on the accelerator. With a judder and a boom, the bus jumped out onto the road.
Several of the passengers gasped.
“The next stop is Djäknegatan.”
Okay, so she had to work on the “not getting provoked.” She glanced up at the convex mirror that allowed her to see further back into the bus. There were frowning faces, more than one disgruntled shake of the head, and…a bright, mischievous grin.
The boy gave her a thumbs-up, as if by some sixth sense he knew she was looking into the mirror right at that moment.
Quickly, Sofie Andersson—Fiffi to all and sundry, Fi when she wanted to play it cool—turned her eyes back to the road, the very busy, December-icy city street. She was blushing. She was blushing from head to toe.