‘Fifty!’ she shouts into the phone. ‘It’s like my life’s over. It’s going to be illness, declining powers, and slipping away. Every day worse than the last.’
The woman in the seat opposite shakes back her hair and pushes up sunglasses to make a hairband. She starts biting her lower lip and nodding, in listening mode. I guess her friend is offering sympathy, wisdom, humour, solidarity. Whatever the strategy, it isn’t working.
‘I know, I know,’ the woman goes. ‘Look, some people get it at thirty, or forty. I didn’t. But this one has really hit me.’
She turns quiet again, rummaging around in her bag.
Then she is back. ‘All those wonderful women? Experience? Achievements? That’s not me, though, is it? I’m not one of them.’ She gives up on the bag-search. ‘No, it’s too late. There’s no time left for anything. It’s all downhill from here.’
As the bus slows to a stop, the back-seat teenagers jump up, run between us and spill onto the pavement.
My fellow passenger blows out a long sigh.
I can almost feel the exasperation at the other end of the phone. Have they given up? Will they give it one more shot?
‘Well, Love.’ Here it comes. It is a female voice; a sister, mother, a friend?
The bus starts moving. I can just hear the words over the sounds of the engine.
‘I always think of fifty as halfway there.’ It is delivered matter-of-factly, not angry, not taking the piss.
What is the fifty-year-old next to me thinking? Doing the maths? Her head drops, the sunglasses slip, she catches them in time.
A laugh-cry splutter. ‘Halfway there?’ She shakes her head, noticing me for the first time. ‘Halfway to hell, more like,’ she mumbles. And winks at me.