The Old Lady at the Bus Terminal

Fiction by | February 5, 2012

The last trip was at 10 pm and I was already having a problem with my stomach. It was aching. Must have been from the water I drank earlier. I asked for it at a carenderia near the terminal. I had never drunk tap water before. But the long wait at the terminal made me thirsty and clammy, and I only had enough money for the bus ticket and a few coins to pay for my jeepney ride once I arrived in Davao.

It was always like this at terminals in provinces. The benches were made of varnished lumber, and only two fluorescent would be lit. The sidewalk vendors had all gone home, and the stores nearby started closing. I sat uneasily on the bench, flipped my long hair from side to side, and fanned my neck with my hand.

“What time did you plan to meet?” the stranger asked. We had both been waiting for the bus for an hour. She was an old lady—her face was all wrinkled, and her fingers were very thin. Layers of skin dangled from both her arms. She had a basket of herbs and dirty bottles beside her. “You are waiting for someone, right?”

I hesitated to talk to her, but she seemed kind. Sometimes, I get scared of old people. I had misconceptions about old people, old women in particular, when I was young. They were often described as cruel witches or horrible madwomen. But she seemed quite different to me. She even had a lovely floral dress and a fixed white hair. She looked, in a way, presentable.

“I am waiting for a friend. We were supposed to meet here a few minutes ago,” I answered her. I clasped the handkerchief I was holding near my knees.

“You look excited,” she said. “I have a granddaughter. She left me last year to elope with her boyfriend. But he never came.” The old woman fanned herself with a piece of cardboard. I nodded at her, and looked at the empty stretch of the road ahead.

“When she came back the next day, she lost all her things. She said she had fallen asleep at the bus terminal while waiting for him,” the old woman said.

“I do not have any plans of eloping. Actually, I am waiting for my friend,” I told her, also fanning myself with my little handkerchief. The pain in my stomach had eased up a little.

“Young people are different now, don’t you think?” she asked me.

I just nodded again. She asked me a few questions after that. She did not believe me when I said I was waiting for my friend. Her tone was quite sarcastic, and her smile seemed sinister, but I still thought she was friendly, someone who had experienced quite a lot of hardships in her life. But she had no complaints except for the bus that was taking very long, and the friend I talked about who kept me waiting.

“She must be a very important person.”

“Yes, he is.”

I twiddled my fingers to keep myself busy. I could count the people at the bus terminal. There were three men, and one was a security guard. In the waiting area there were at least six people: me, the old woman, and a family with two children. We were all waiting.

“My granddaughter said he was a good man. He always gave her flowers,” she said. “I never knew they had a plan of eloping. It surprised me.”

I listened to her story. She looked enthusiastic when she talked about her granddaughter.

“When I looked at my granddaughter while she ate, I could not help but feel sad. She loved him so much.”

“Yes, that sounds so sad,” I told her.

“You should not trust anyone that easily. People change their minds whenever they want to,” she said.

I stared at the old woman. Her face was serious while she spoke. I could not help but worry. The bus had not arrived yet. Sometimes I would look at my phone to check if he sent me a text message. But there was none.
The old woman became quiet for a while; her eyes were still open, as if staring at something only she could see. But I think she was only thinking very deeply, like what most old people do. I asked her if she was all right because she suddenly became groggy. Her mouth was shaking. The family at the terminal was already sleeping on one of the benches, and the three other men were in the guard house, chattering. If something happened to her, everybody would blame me for sure, I thought.

“Lola, are you okay?” I went closer to her, tried to tap her shoulders, but she suddenly stopped mumbling. She looked at me, and I moved away.

“Someone’s here,” she told me. “I can feel it.”

I looked at the road, and saw my friend walking towards the terminal. He had his luggage in his one hand and a bottle of water in the other. I stood up.

“What took you so long?” I asked him, frowning. The old lady laughed behind me in a wicked manner.

He panted, tried to put his gestures into words, and placed his heavy luggage on the bench.

“It’s the alarm clock. I set the time, and I didn’t know it was broken.”

He was always stupid. When we were in college, he was always late for class. And until now when he was supposed to be traveling back to the city for our civil wedding, he was still late.

But he was always patient.

He embraced me. And then the bus finally arrived. We got on it, but the old lady did not follow. She just stayed there at the terminal. The words she spoke to me still lingered in my head.

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