Maisie blinkit her een open in the half-licht o a cauld Winter's mornin. She wis fine an' cosy in her bed, bundled roon wi the blunkets wippet roon her legs an' keepin' her taes weel awa fae the steen-cauld piggie bottle at the fit o' the bed. As her tousled held pokit oot o' the snorrel o' covers, she took a deep breath an' the insides o' her nostrils stuck thegither - it wis that cauld in the upstairs room o' the auld hoose!
"Fit fine it wid be tae bide here aa day!" she thocht as she cam tae, bit she kent that, e're lang, she'd hae tae swing her feet on tae the cauld lino an' struggle intae her squeel claes. It wis some unearthly hoor - thon time fan it's twixt an' between, half nicht, half day, an her waukenin' brain wis tellin' her sweir-like beens tae get yokit for the day or she'd be late for the bus!
The nearest Secondary school for Ballater wis as far awa as Banchory, an' ilka squeel day, she hid tae trauchle oot o' her bed, grab a "piece" fae the table an' syne oot the skippy road up tae the garage.
The winters aye seemed tae be coorse an her fingers an' taes dirled wi the freest an the cauld air nippet ony bit o' her face open tae the win. The cauld blast seen waukened her up as she waded throwe the snaw - maist o' the village fowk still cuddled doon in their warm beds.
Maisie aye felt a bit hard-deen till on mornins like this, as if she wis the only ane left alive in a world withoot fowk. Summer mornins were different - she sniffed up the fresh dawn air an wis gled nae tae waste her hoors lyin half-dwalmed in a bed fan there wis a bonny world tae be alive in!
Near Strachan's garage by the Kirk Green, the auld reed bus sat plochterin its steam an' runnin' its engine - rarin tae go! Mair geets were creepin' fae side streets an' roon corners, half-deid an bleary-e'ed like hersel. She jist hid tae thole the early mornins if she winted tae "get on in the world!" Maisie's faither wis aye a great ane for "book-learnin" - he wis aye dinnin it intae Maisie's heid -
"It wid a be worth it at the end o' the day!" (or so he said.)
The driver, files a ragie auld sod, sat squattered in his seat wi' a face like thunner, tootin' his horn at thon latchy loon slidin doon the Railway Brig. Fan the time cam tae set aff, he widna wait for onybody - he hid his schedule tae keep an' that wis that!
It wis a gey lang trail tae squeel, for the reed bus hid tae cross the brig at Aboyne an' chauve up Corse Darder, roon Birse an' Finzean, pickin up scholars a' the wey. Files, it wis great, for Maisie could catch up wi' some o' her lessons or compare answers fae her Maths book. Mind ye, she couldna write a' that weel on the bus - it wis like the scrape o' hens' feet as the bus bumped an' choked doon the valley. A teacher kent fine ye'd deen it on the bus - they werena that feel!
Syne there wis aye some ferlie tae see oot the steamy windaes, aince she'd gien them a hooch an' a dicht wi her squeel scarf. She saw the seasons change wi the months an', even in the winter, the icy fiteness o' the Dee valley, hid a beauty, tae the anes fa could see it, for some o' the loons were that taen up wi quines in the back seat that the changin seasons left them cauld - fool brutes that they were!
That snawy mornin, it hid dung on a' nicht an the reed bus wis haein some tchauve wi' the roads. On the wey up Corse Darder, she jist gied a groan fae her intimmers an' a shudder fae her chassis, an slid slow-like fae the side o' the road, laired up tae the axles in snaw.
"A-body oot!" the mannie at the wheel yelled. Girnin' an' grumblin', the bairns piled oot tae push the bus. The loons preened an' showed aff, pushin' their shooders agin the back o' the bus, bit the quines snickered an' capered, pretendin' tae push, bit really nippin' an' ticklin' the loons' backsides.
The mannie fair lost the heid an' splootered wi' rage. "Stop yer bloody caperin' an' push!" He wis a frien o' her faithers, so she kent if faither got wind o' this, she'd get a richt leatherin, so Maisie settled doon an' stopped her skirlin. Wi the help o' a spad an' haunfus o' san fae his sack in the back o' the bus, they got roadit again.
It wis a great ploy, for, by the time Maisie an' the rest hid gaen throwe this cairry-on twa or three times o' the mornin', it wis gey near denner time by the time they were drappit at the squeel gates an' nane o' the teachers could say a wird till them! In fact, they felt real prood as they trailed in, like explorer-chiels bravin the Arctic weather, jist tae get some learnin!
The auld reed Strachan's buses maybe werena yer "state o' the art" modern coaches wi inside laavies an' bonny plush seats, bit they were able tae trauchle up an' doon the roads for mony years in harder winter days. Maisie grew fair fond o' their bonny reed faces an' square-like lines - built tae laist - a bus ye could aye lippen on.
There wis a lack o' heat an' comfort an' for a' the cauld she hid tae thole, sittin' there curlin' her itchy chilblains an' shovin' her dirlin' hauns deep doon in her pouches, there wis aye a bit o' a lauch, for fan ye're young, ye can aye find somethin tae lauch at, even if it's only the driver's lugs! Aifter a year or twa, the reed bus wis like an auld frien - nae muckle tae look at, bit aye there for ye!
Maisie files gies a shudder fan she sees the blue an yalla doubledecker stourin up the Tullich Road, for the reed bus lookit mair at hame on the country roads o' the valley. Onywey, looks arenae a'thin!