“Why?” asks Nadine. “Last month it was $18.99 return.”
“Don’t you watch television or read newspapers? It’s posted everywhere – bus fares gone up.”
Nadine breaks out in coughs. “Sorry” to the next person in line. “It’s not contagious; I’ve taken way too many anti-histamine as it is today – the allergies you know?”
People in the line-up recognize a smoker’s cough, but at least the non-contagious part comes as a relief.
An impatient traveller calls from the back, "What's the hold up?" and with sudden urgency the ticket master looks Nadine straight in her witless eyes.
"Smokes on the Reserves are cheaper by the hundred and not pre-packed. Too bad the bus doesn’t follow that route anymore."
“What will it be, single or return? The bus outside already has a driver inside and staying on schedule means a bonus for all of us comes Christmas."
“Single." Her fingers do treasure hunting in the clip wallet. "That leaves me with $8.50. She takes the ticket and speaks up. "With cancer you never know.” The line-upper now notice her bony skeleton under the worn coat before swiping his card. "I'm not too sure if I must take pity or not, ‘cause every person should know by now that smoking kills."
Nadine falls into the only window seat left, insistent her fingers on the remaining cigarettes in her purse."Ten?" Ten is not enough to get her through the day and a packet of the cheapest smokes is $7.50. Once she gets to the hospital she will have to withhold the craving and God-willing buy an extra-large coffee with cream and sugar. Food is not a problem. Sometimes there are trolleys with a leftover yogurt or an apple in the corridor and the nurses don’t mind if she takes it.
Staying positive is such a challenge. The bus driver pulls over at the first stop and passengers get off. Nadine dwells on the thought of getting off at the next stop and quickly lights a smoke. She needs one, but the stop isn’t long enough to finish it and she actually can’t risk the price of being left behind.
Less than a year ago they celebrated remission. The day the results came was preferable to winning big time in some lottery game. It was almost too much to bear – the recovering after months of drawn-out bloodwork, chemo, radiation, prayers and promises. On the day of remission they celebrated as if they had inherited eternal life.
Her stomach growls, not lying how hungry she is. The aroma of freshly made sandwiches and apples travel with on this hour-and-a-half drive and Nadine palates the savoured taste thereof.
When the bus reaches its final destination all passengers are requested not to leave any personal items behind. Nadine counts the ten smokes with her fingers, takes her purse and straightens her shoulders. Around the corner is the white tomb stone hospital.
Nuns penguin on the benches purified not to confuse the pink and yellow smell of roses for milkshake delights. Nadine hesitates in front of the garden desiring to pick a couple of long stemmed ones, but the last time she took flowers with she had to leave them on the receptionist's desk.
Overcome with dread she does not first light a smoke, but with utmost willpower fly the twenty-one stairs to the entrance and forty-four steps down the passage.
Room 304 is empty.
"WHY NOT ME? Why not me? Why?" her fists hammer against the wall void the hope in her heart.
She bought a single ticket to visit her dying child one last time.