Sundays on the Bus [Flash Fiction – maybe a beginning to a longer short story?]

Rupert took the bus to work on Sundays. He didn’t have to; the divorce had gone through pretty smoothly and he’d gotten to keep the car, which he drove the rest of the week. Monday through Friday, the bus was packed with loud teenagers going to school and busy businessmen and businesswomen who put him on edge. For a guy who worked six days a week, including Sundays, Rupert considered himself to be pretty relaxed, and the tense atmosphere on the bus every morning made him feel unnecessarily stressed.

But Sundays were special. On Sundays, nobody else in his line of work went to the office. He worked in Finance, at a Big Corporation where he made a Nice Living. He never explained to people anything beyond this, because he’d learned that his job-description made their eyes wander and their mouths open in embarrassing yawns. He didn’t begrudge them. He knew that not everyone found beauty in what appeared at first glance to be monotonous number-crunching.

Three years after the divorce, Rupert had to admit to himself that he also took the bus to work on Sundays because of the chance to see Her. She was taller than him, more giraffe than woman, with a wide mouth, high cheekbones and soft brown eyes. She had a small boy – Rupert saw him grow from a newborn baby to a large toddler of three – and She took him to the big park near Rupert’s office to watch other people flying kites. Rupert toyed with the idea of mysteriously gifting them both with a kite one day, but he never quite worked up the nerve to do it.

He wondered sometimes, especially during the dreary winters when She and her son rode the bus far less often, whether he was obsessed. He didn’t think he was creepy; he never stared at Her inappropriately and never offered Her son any candy. But he kept taking the bus every single Sunday, rain or shine, in the hopes of speaking to Her, even accidentally. He sometimes dreamed of criminals hijacking the vehicle or getting into a dramatic crash so that he’d have an excuse to perform a heroic act for which She’d be so grateful that She’d speak to him. Then he remember his puny arms and his ever-growing paunch and sadly realized that in the event of an emergency, it would probably be Her who would rescue him.

A Bus Ride to Say “I’m Alive”

I got on a bus at the corner of 33d and 7th. It was a big bus; red and black, with a white lightning bolt emblazoned on it. The message was clear: this bus was express, fast, and going places.

The driver, Miss King, was a black woman with frizzy hair and a wide smile. She was big, and as she walked down the aisle to use the bathroom before we started out, she asked people to excuse her. I guess she felt that squeezing her bulk through required an apology. It didn’t, really. She looked happy and comfortable the way she was. She shouldn’t have been apologizing to anybody. A man in his twenties wearing a red-and-black baseball cap (did he wear it to match the bus?) eyed her lasciviously when she passed by. They bantered for a bit, flirting casually.

The bus ride was long. Four hours and fifteen minutes. Not as long as a lot of the flights I’ve been on, but long enough. I slept for about forty minutes, but that’s it. Sleep and I aren’t the best of friends these days. I don’t know what happened between us. Maybe sleep was offended by me somehow? Personally, I feel hurt that sleep comes to visit so reluctantly and leaves so quickly after he arrives. Maybe we’re just playing a pride game now, neither one of us willing to apologize and make it up with the other because we each think that we’re not the ones to blame for this estrangement.

I thought that we saw Baltimore twice, but it was actually only once. The first time wasn’t really Baltimore. When we actually saw it, I was surprised because it looked exactly like I imagined it. There was a port that seemed to cover half the city with boxes and shipping-yard type stuff. The rest of the city was smoggy but beautiful.

Spring Break sounds like the name of a movie with drunk teenagers and naked blondes. Or maybe it’s a safety video about how to take care of trampolines. What spring break really is right now is a piece of family in Virginia, a road-trip, and a lot of homework.

I’m writing. I’m writing almost every day. When I don’t, I feel odd. A red Moleskine has become a new journal. It’s too conspicuous to be one, of course – it fairly screams “Open me!” – but I’m using it anyway. It’s important that I keep using pens. I never want to get to a point where I don’t love pen and paper anymore.

 

The Later Bus – A Rantle

RANTLE: A newfangled word, invented by a slightly ignorant writer, RANTLE means a rant that is also a ramble, specifically of the kind that is told (or written) in story form.

“There’s only one seat left,” the bus driver warned me. I looked quickly at my watch. I had time to spare, but not enough to take the chance of waiting for the next bus. I climbed up the steep steps and give the bus driver a few bills.

“Two ways, please,” I asked politely. I’m always polite to bus drivers. So many people are mean to them – abrupt and impatient and assuming, and I hate that. I know what it’s like to service people in one capacity or another, and every job like that is made better by nice people.

I got the change from the driver, thanked him and took my ticket from the little machine that spit the little pieces of paper out. As always, I wasn’t sure if the ticket was stuck or if I simply wasn’t pulling hard enough. I tugged at the ticket for another few seconds and it gave way. I tucked it it my wallet for the return journey.

The driver started backing up from the pick-up spot so that he could leave. The central bus-station always feels like an airport in that way – the bus is just like the plane, taxiing to the takeoff point and then setting off from the station and into the city streets until it reaches the highway where it goes up to full speed.

I looked down the aisle and began to walk, looking for the promised seat that was supposed to be left. I though I saw it, but then realized that there was a small girl sitting next to the window. I continued on until I realized that the one seat was being occupied by someone’s extremely large bag. Darn. I should have waited for the next bus. I ended up sitting on the steps near the back door.

The bus was hot and stuffy, and so much the worse where I was sitting. I didn’t have a window or a vent, just a solid door in front of me, two small trashcans next to me and the step behind me that led up to the aisle. I was sweating within minutes. Not the most pleasant experience in the world, I’ll grant you. As I said, I should have waited for the next bus to come.

I took my mp3 player out of my bag and chose a suitably amusing, energetic and yet disturbing band to listen to while I played one of the stupid games on the player to pass the time. My choice must have been a good one since the ride seemed to be over relatively quickly, although my skirt kept sticking to my knees and I had to shift constantly to be comfortable on the hard steps.

Getting off the bus should have been a wonderful experience – emerging from the musty, dusty space into real air. But, as luck would have it, today has been much hotter and more humid than the weekend was, and so when I got off the bus first I felt as if I’d dunked myself into a fetid and stagnant pool of hot water. Within moments, I was sweating worse than ever.

Now I had a choice. Either I could wait for another bus to take me two stops – about half a mile if that – or I could walk the distance. Despite the heat and the humidity in the air that made me feel as if I were walking through soup, I decided to walk. I looked at my watch again as I pulled my book out. Too early – I should have waited for the next bus. There was nothing I could do about it anymore, though. So I opened my book and began to walk. As usual, I didn’t collide with anyone or anything, which is to the good, but I also had a hard time enjoying the short walk because of the sun falling on my exposed arms and heating my black skirt and tank top so much that it felt as if they were burning onto me permanently.

It took me barely ten minutes to reach my destination – early, as I’d thought. Much too early. I couldn’t find a bench that had trees shading it and took a walk up to a park and then back down to the street, searching for a good place to sit in vein. I realized I was thirsty, so I went into a well-conditioned super-market to buy a bottle of water. I often wish that there were public drinking fountains here, like there are in much of Italy. Then I wouldn’t have to pay for water that is almost the same as tap water, except that the industry that makes the bottles that hold it are ruining the environment. But I digress. I bought the water and wished I could stay in the supermarket and continue enjoying the cold air that was being pumped from somewhere unseen. I was on the verge of asking the clerk behind the counter if there was a place I could sit for a few minutes there, but then realized that the man would say that there wasn’t and would shoo me out. Instead of dealing with the humiliation and unpleasentness of that, I just payed and left.

I finally found a shady spot, took out my computer, and typed up my account of the last two hours. The moral of the story? Yes, I should have taken the later bus.

Interesting Boredom

I always take a book with me, no matter where I’m going or for how short a time. I simply hate leaving the house without a book. I think the reason for this is mostly a fear that I’ve developed over the years – a fear of boredom. I bring a book with me wherever I go so that if, by some chance, I need to wait at a bus station or for a friend or for something unexpected – well, I’ll have something to immerse myself in. Some people can find a hundred ways to occupy themselves with their cellphones. Some people can file their nails for an hour or count how many red cars go by. I can do those things too, but I simply would prefer to have a book.

Still, there have been times when my fear of boredom has been alleviated by the fact that I can, surprisingly, entertain myself with my own thoughts fairly well. Last week, for instance, I was taking a long bus ride and I began to grow nauseous while reading. I put my book on my lap and stared out the window, trying to calm my roiling stomach and concentrate on my breathing. Soon I found myself engaged in memories and imagined conversations and in musings about this or that, while also enjoying the view and trying to invent details or stories to add to what I saw.

Boredom, I’ve discovered, can be quite pleasant at times.

The Unremarkable Man on the Route 46 Bus

An unremarkable man, wearing an unremarkable pair of jeans and unremarkable long sleeved shirt, stepped onto the Route 46 bus as it juddered to a halt at the Route 46 bus-stop. He flashed his monthly bus-pass at the driver who waved him into the interior of the bus (without looking at the man’s unremarkable picture and name on the bus-pass). The man walked unobtrusively into the bus, which was quite a feat as it was an early Monday morning and the bus was packed full of early Monday morning commuters, dressed in suits or geared up for the gym.

There were, of course, no seats available on the bus, and so the man had no choice but to hold onto one of the rails and stand, in an unremarkable fashion, as the bus began trundling out of the station with much clanking, banging and groaning.

It was good that two other passengers had gotten on at the same stop as the man had, or the people on the bus would have been very confused as to the reason the bus driver had stopped. No passengers had gotten off, and nobody had actually noticed the unremarkable man got on the bus at all, so it was good that the old man and his small granddaughter had been waiting at that particular Route 46 bus-stop as well. When people looked over as the unremarkable man, their gazes slid off him and they would focus on their neighbor’s magazine or the sunlight outside or the Route 46 map that hung right above the man.

The unremarkable man, used to this sort of treatment, didn’t even try to dominate the space he stood in. Instead, he let the space float around him and he let people’s eyes slide away from him, and he focused on his first project of the morning: the little girl who had gotten on with the old man at that particular Route 46 bus-stop. The girl was almost as unremarkable as the man, he thought; she was quiet, focused only on the ragged teddy-bear in her arms, and seemed not to notice her grandfather’s wheezing and coughing as he unfolded a newspaper and ignored her. The girl’s hair was an unremarkable brown, not shiny or bouncy or curly, but simply lying limply and often obscuring her face as it swung back and forth with the motion of the bus. The girl’s face, half hidden by the unremarkable hair, was plain and expressionless as she stared at the teddy-bear on her lap and twisted his ears in an absentminded way.

The unremarkable man was usually drawn to flashy characters – women in orange spandex suits fiddling with their sunglasses and purses, clowns on their ways to birthday parties looking grumpy and hot in their makeup and outfits, suited men and women who seemed only to be waiting for their next cigarette and who shouted on their cellphones. Today, though, the unremarkable man decided he was interested in an unremarkable girl. He focused his thoughts on her, and her eyes snapped up to look into his. And there it was, for a split second.

…grandaddy is so boring he’s reading the newspaper again and mr. snuffles is bored because i’m bored too and why does grandaddy have to take me to kindergarten anyway i mean he isn’t as funny as mommy is on the bus and anyway he doesn’t talk to mr. snuffles like mommy or daddy do and i’m hungry but grandaddy said that buying ice-cream early in the morning would make my teeth rotten but i don’t care because i like dr. leslie that dentist who mommy took me to because she gave me a sticker and a lolly-pop and said i was a good little girl and that my teeth would never be rotten if i kept coming to see her and mommy laughed and patted my hair and said we’ll keep coming back to see dr. leslie and miriam is going to bring me a brownie her mom made today to kindergarten and maybe mommy will pick me up and grandaddy won’t be with her anyd then i won’t have to sleep at his house tonight and i’ll be able to go home and watch barnie with mommy and then go to bed with my yellow blankets and mr. snuffles will be happy because mommy will sing us a lullaby

The unremarkable man broke his eye-contact with the girl, who promptly turned away and continued to twist Mr. Snuffle’s worn-out ears. The man almost gasped. His brow was dripping with sweat. For a moment, everyone on the bus almost noticed him standing there. Then the moment passed, and the man calmed himself, smiling in such a manner which in anyone less unremarkable would seem to be amused. I’VE GOTTEN LAZY, thought the unremarkable man. I’LL HAVE TO FIND SOME MORE LIKE THAT GIRL. SUCH VIVIDNESS COULD LAST FOR WEEKS. WHO KNOWS? MAYBE OTHERS LIKE HER WILL MAKE ME REAL AGAIN.