Outside, it is late autumn. The air is crisp and cool, and the stars are very clean and bright. Under the enormous sky, twining across a plain abruptly trimmed with mountains is a road and on it the bus glides; eating up the kilometers with a low grumble that fills its innards wall to wall, so thick you can almost touch it.
Inside, the air is heavy, warm, settled over everything like a spoilt cat. It is soured with the tinge of curry that the passengers had for tea.
Some of them are sleeping – their soft, shuffling breaths weave murmuring melodies with the bus' growl. And others sit in pools of light, chattering quietly. A flash of laughter sparkles briefly then it is smothered by the dark.
People have been drawing on the windows. Names collide and battle for room. An ecstatic smiling girl cries where the condensation dripped. Half figures, letters, and places crowd the edges of the dark spaces that reflect back the faces of the people who wiped away the dew.
Come and sit. Not there; the other side of the aisle. Chloe has taken her shoes of and put her feet up on that seat. Snuggled under her jacket, she would like to think she looks peaceful, innocent, elegant even in sleep, but has a sneaking suspicion there may be some undignified rolls showing. She'll just twitch her jacket a little to cover. See how she did that? Oh so subtly, still looking like she was asleep? Her mouth is ruining it by twitching and stretching into a Cheshire grin.
On the seat in front, a large inky dark figure lurks. It shifts shadily. Then suddenly swoops with the movement of the bus; dropping, plunging, crashing down. Scared? Don't be. It's the double bass that wouldn't fit with the timpani in the hold.
Michael is sitting four rows back. Leaning against him, craving his attention, is his bassoon that he is so like. Tall, thin, darkly tanned, with lowest, deepest, sweetest voice, like Barry White or Liberace. Lying in his lax hand is a well-worn tatty copy of The Portrait of Dorian Grey. He is trying to glare at you for staring but can't quite manage it; the sleepy peace of the bus is too much for anyone.
The bus driver reigns in his ergonomic seat; its fluffy cover encompassing and cradling numbed flesh. He hums a Beatles' tune under his breath, breathing the words when he knows them, mumbling the bits when he doesn't. His damp meaty frame rumbles and shakes with chuckling laughter as he catches a punch line drifting up from the back of the bus.
Lisa stumbles up the aisle, falling against seats to stop herself at each group of passengers. She descends on you, arm outstretched, offering a crinkled plastic bag of gummi snakes. The lurid glow from a passing town paints her like a clown. Sliding lights change and distort her face, easily grinning to leering to gnashing, and the bus is back on the open road.
The conductor raises his hands, still on the podium waiting for his musicians' expectant silence before the first note. The bus will be arriving home in an hour. He suggests people take the chance to rest then stands down.
You heard him; get some sleep. Goodnight.