Niamh O'Donovan

The Noise When I Stop

Niamh O'Donovan

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Waiting for the bus is part of everyday. Stand, and wait. Walking would be better but motivation left when my interloping mind fell quiet. Calmed with time and medication and now I’ve settled into days filled with simple occupation for recovery, like taking the bus to visit my mother. She seems at ease with my diagnosis. Calmly telling me to do the basics, “Walk to my house, for lunch. Focus on getting better.” Walking there would be thirty minutes of exercise. It might help me feel like a full person, but I’m too drained.

From my spot at the bus stop I see a double decker passing but it’s not the one I need. Mine should have arrived by now so more and more people are joining in the wait. Everyone will want a seat. Young people will be expected to stand, and make way for the elderly and sick but I don’t look sick so how would they know. People always judge.

Leaning back against the perspex shelter I stretch out my legs hoping to force some feeling back into them.

I could’ve walked up the hill and stayed away from people and the noise. I’ve walked that hill before and felt good, but feeling good seems impossible lately. Maybe I could set out now, struggle through them but the press of bodies around me forces panicked images into my mind: ripped tights and grazed knees, dust and jagged stones embedded in a raw, red-sore palm. I grab at my coarse and frayed hair. All they would know is a frenzied woman disrupting their everyday peace. They’re already sneaking glances at me.

A man’s rucksack catches on the straps of my handbag. I twist to pull away from him and bump against a woman chatting with her friend. She glares at me. He pushed me but I need to be careful. I can’t excuse myself. All I have are excuses.

I walked everywhere when it happened; the psychotic episode. Everything had deeper meaning and I had a manic drive to do something with my insight. My friends saw me as distant, and disengaged. They didn’t know I was listening in fraught rapture with their words giving me an understanding of a failing town. How the city was all a lie. Those were my delusions and my belief in them pushed me to reckless action. Insight faked by a disorganised mind, but thinking back I still see a level of truth to them. The city doesn’t care. If it did the buses would be on time.

The man with the rucksack swings around again, and I press my hand against the shelter to catch myself from tumbling. “Did I miss a bus?” he asks. “I need to pick up my daughter from school.” An accusation. Buses not showing up isn’t my fault yet I feel tears forming in my eyes. I tell myself it’s not emotion. I’m not cowed or fearful and frustration won’t make me cry. A truck passed. It kicked up dust and my eyes caught a blast of road.

“No. Traffic’s just bad.” My tongue is thick as though it isn’t me struggling out those words. He looks into my eyes. If he stares long enough he’ll recognise what’s inside me. All disjointed and disordered; dismay too strong.

I focus on my shoes. The patent leather is flaking and the bottom of my feet picks out every bump of concrete beneath. The walk up that hill would be torture with these thin soles but I know I could manage it with some determination.

A gap appears in the bodies and I push forward. Maybe a bus is coming? Looking down the row of traffic there’s none to be seen even though the sign saying one is due has rolled over. Now it says the next bus won’t be along for twenty-five minutes. It doesn’t mean anything. It could mean something. A few months ago I would have found insight in the bus sign. Maybe it’s testing how patient I am. Only patient people deserve an easy trip.

I laugh at my search for purpose in nothingness. People turn to look at me. I shouldn’t care about their stares. What can they even see? I reassure myself they can’t see my thoughts even if I once believed they could.

I look at the display again knowing there’s no revelation in an arrivals sign. I’m still searching for that manic frisson I once shared with the world. If I could only have a little of the drive and surety madness gave me. Some feeling of the purpose I held. Just enough to help me on my way.

The LED arrivals sign blinks off. “My fish is going to defrost in this heat,” a woman says. She looks at me and I stave off the feeling I caused the weather, the crowd of people, and the disappeared bus.

It’s too hot. Everyone is succumbing to the heat, not-so-frozen hake and all. I need to get away. I need to escape their voices and jostling bodies. My body can’t support my weight. It’s straining at me with a pulling wall of noise but examining my hands they’re perfectly still. I press someone in the small of their back giving them a nudge. He twists enough for me to pass behind. He looks around but doesn’t catch me unlike the other’s locked eyes.

With the space and cooling breeze I feel the clamminess beneath my too heavy layers. I take off my coat, and force myself to count my inhale and exhale. The light is sharper since the cloud passed. The sun strong against my legs, baking a little strength into them.

I step farther away from the disruption at the bus stop. The wind wisps gently against my face and the pressure in my head is easing with each rise and fall of my chest. Those people weren’t staring. I should have known that all along but I have to accept I can’t constantly fight my thoughts, even when they’re intimidating and wild.

As I take out my phone to check the time it rings: Mam. Moving farther from the noise of the crowd to take the call makes up my mind for me.

“Are you on your way?”

“I’m going to walk up to your place." My legs are stiff from standing for so long, but each step is a pleasing stretch of muscles.

“Well done. The exercise will do you good. I’ll have lunch ready.”

Turning back I see the bus has arrived. The crowd I was once part of is scrambling to board and get a seat. An image of me being knocked from side to side in the press begins to form so I focus on the lurid yellow trainers in the window of a triathlon store. Tomorrow I won’t wait for the bus. I’ll come here and buy comfortable shoes. Maybe that’s what I need. Some support for my climb.


Niamh O'Donovan


Niamh O’Donovan is in her early thirties and lives in County Cork, Ireland. Her photography has appeared in the photozine Various Small Failures. A second short story of hers, “Clear the Dawn,” is forthcoming.