Punjabi Palace Bus Crash

Karolina was on the bus when it hit Punjabi Palace. She had noticed the bus driver when she had got on, because he’d tapped the Go card machine closest to him and said, “Gotta touch on here, love,” and then when she’d moved towards it he had leaned over the gate that coralled him into the driver’s seat and said, “You look like a little pixie,” and winked, and she had recoiled because he’d smelled strongly of Bundaberg Rum & Coke, a smell she was familiar with from her time spent packing bananas in Far North Queensland.

Karolina did look like a pixie but it was not something she enjoyed being reminded of by bus drivers, or anyone, as Karolina’s mother had often admired the daughter of their neighbours for her classic oval face and straight, noble nose, before sighing pointedly and looking in Karolina’s direction. Karolina’s nose tilted up. She had tried to straighten it in adolescence by pressing down on it with her wooden ruler during all eight of her daily lessons, but its will was stronger than hers and the tip continued to reach for the stars like a precocious only child.

It hadn’t been raining before the bus hit the Mercedes, the Subaru, the Hyundai, and the front of the restaurant, but as it settled back onto its axle and Karolina recoiled from the seat in front of her with the bridge of her nose bleeding, it began to piss down. She had only recently learned this expression, and it was what she thought as she looked out the window from her seat in the back of the bus at the Dutch-tilted street: pissing down. Then the aftermath of the shock began to bubble into the silence around her and people were getting up from their seats and helping other people up and rubbing their necks and looking very pale, and at the front of the bus Karolina could see the bus driver slumped sideways over his corral door into the aisle, being still and crumpled, but as she watched he stirred and made an audible growling noise and a string of saliva briefly connected his lips and the floor. He hoisted himself back out of sight and a minute later the doors to the bus opened with a pneumatic hiss.

The police arrived first, then the ambulances and the fire engine. Karolina thought about how different each of the sirens sounded from each other, and how different each of those sounded to the ones at home. A paramedic in a blue onesie sat her in the back of an ambulance with her feet still on the road and put a crinkly silver blanket around her and applied some iodine and a sticky plaster to the cut on her nose. Karolina was pretty sure he was at least five years younger than her. He had light blue eyes and curly hair and he was making her feel mothered, his fingers on her face firm and warm, and as he checked that all the bone and cartilage in her upturned nose was in the right places she had a strong sudden urge to hold him, pull him awkwardly with her into the back of the ambulance and press herself onto him, just to feel that someone else’s heart was making the blood go through their body like hers was, just to feel something in a language she understood.

Later she caught a taxi home, and after she’d given her address and a few minutes of silence had passed, the Indian man driving had said, “Bloody pissing down, isn’t it.”

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