Real life as literature.
I was standing at the bus stop with my coat draped over my arms. November had receded into September since I left home that morning, and people walked past me in shorts and sunglasses. Two college girls, their legs white after months out of the sun, looked at my coat, half-smiling. I wanted to stop them and explain that it had been a lot colder when I went to work. But I didn’t.
When the bus came I climbed aboard and paid my dollar fare. The bus was always crowded at five o’clock and the only seats open were in the front of the bus, and reserved for handicapped and elderly persons. These seats were against the sides of the bus, facing the aisle. I sat down and decided I would move if someone came on who needed the seat.
The only other person sitting in the reserved seats was a woman of about thirty five. Her hair was uncombed. She wore an orange jacket, unbuttoned, and very old blue jeans. Her eyes stared unfocused out the window, her lips moving quickly and silently. She held on to the bar beside her seat with her right hand, and her fingers danced along the bar like she was playing the saxophone.
I looked away quickly and fought against watching her. There is something fascinating about those people who live on the edges of society. I avoid meeting them, but can’t keep myself from staring when I do.
The woman laughed loudly to herself, two short barks. I looked up and she was staring at me. Her eyes seemed too large for her face. She stared with such intensity I blushed. I folded my coat neatly across my lap, brushed some dirt from my pants leg. When I looked up again she was staring out the window again.
The bus stopped and a black man got on. He wore a light red sweater and carried a black backpack. His eyes searched the crowded bus, then sat down across from me, beside the woman with the orange jacket. We rode for a few more blocks, stopping as people got on and off the bus. I was trying to catch his eye, to find some way of warning him, but nothing came to mind. Then the woman turned toward him. He was looking out the window and
turned his head casually, smiling.
“How about some Pepsi?,” the woman shouted. She waited a few seconds, like she expected him to respond, then began rocking back and forth.
The man’s smile disappeared. His eyebrows pressed over his eyes and he looked at the woman. A smile passed quickly over his face and he started laughing.
The woman stopped rocking and turned toward him again. “That was a good one!,” she said, as the man’s laugh grew louder.
I turned sideways in my chair, to avoid seeing them and to stop the laugh I felt building within me. A woman sitting nearby glanced at me, shaking her head.
“Oh God,” the man exhaled through his laughter. The woman was staring right at him, studying him. His expression would have been terrifying if he had not been laughing. He put his head back, trying to catch his breath, and I saw a gold filling flash from one of his rear teeth.
“I’m not the only one,” the woman whispered. I couldn’t stop myself any longer, and began to laugh too. The black man bent over with his head between his knees.
“I can’t stop,” he said, wiping his eyes. “How do I stop?”
Many people on the bus were laughing now. In the rearview mirror I saw the bus driver smiling. I looked down. It just didn’t seem right, laughing at this poor, sick woman.
“That was a good one,” she said again. Then she stopped laughing and stared out the window again. Her fingers played across the bar and she rocked slightly. Slowly everyone stopped laughing, except when the man would catch my eye, and we’d both look away to fight back a grin.
We both got up when the bus arrived downtown. “Bye,” the woman said to us, smiling brightly. “Good luck.”
“Goodbye,” I said. The man got off in front of me and I stood on the sidewalk, watching his back as he walked away. The bus door closed behind me and a wave of heat and fumes swept by me as it pulled away. I threw my coat over my shoulder and walked the rest of the way home.
I got out of class late and had to run to catch my bus. I had been late to work twice this week and couldn’t afford to be late again. The bus driver saw me running and waited for me to catch up. I was out of breath when I got on. I thanked the driver for waiting and showed her my pass. There were only a couple seats open near the front of the bus, so I sat down next to an older white woman.
I really hate riding the bus. There are so many weird people. The woman next to me kind of smelled, like she hadn’t showered in a couple days. There was a white guy sitting across from me, who kept looking at me, then looking at the woman next to me. A bus full of whacko white people.
I could see this woman staring at me from the corner of my eye. I ignored her for a couple minutes, but she just kept staring. Then I saw the white guy across the aisle staring at me, too. God, I thought, they must be related.
I smiled at the woman, trying to be friendly. She stared at me with these big eyes and asked me if I wanted some Pepsi. Then she started laughing, a really nasty laugh, like she was choking. It sounded like when you try to start your car after it’s already started. I tried not to laugh, but I couldn't help it. She had some really nasty breath, too.
“That was a good one,” she said to the guy across the aisle. He started laughing. I lost it then. I put my head between my knees, laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. I tried to stop laughing, but every time I looked up one of those two was looking at me, and I would just lose it again.
“I’m not the only one,” she whispered. Then she stopped laughing. I looked up, and she was sitting back, staring out the window. The guy was still smiling at me, with this stupid smile on his face. So I looked at the floor most of the way downtown.
When I got to my stop I stood up, and saw the guy following me. I didn’t look at him. He and his friend said goodbye, and he got off after me. I could feel him watching me as I walked away, and I walked a little faster. When I turned around, he was still standing at the bus stop. I hate taking the bus.
1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5....
I sat on the hard plastic seat and stared out the window. Trees and houses flew by quickly. Faces stared out at me from the branches, geometric shapes alluding to metageometrical ideals danced along the eaves of blurred houses. My fingers counted time on the bar I grasped, dividing the passing scenery into five second increments, easier to integrate and identify.
The bus stopped and my counting became more focused. My eyes studied the framed reality of the bus window, looking in shrubs, through the outline of branches and lawns.
A figure passed before me, catching my attention. A man carried a brown coat. I stared at the intricate patterns of folds in the fabric, like a field of darkness flowing through skin.
12345 12345 12345 12...
3.4 secular increments. This was not the man. They would never send him on an uneven secular increment. I was sure of that. I studied his face. Short beard, light perspiration. No, it wasn’t him.
The bus moved again. I stared out the window. The constant refrain of time played in my neurocardiointestinal system. 12345 12345. I searched the passing reality for any clue, any sign of irregularity.
The bus stopped. 12345 12345 12345 12345 12345 12345 123 The bus began again. A man sat beside me. I felt disappointed. I had thought this might be him. A white van passed by the window. P E P S I, I read off the side of the van.
12345 PEPSI 12345 PEPSI....
Of course! I realized at once the implication. A quick glance assured me I was right. The man across the aisle was staring at me, staring at the new man staring at me. Trying to tell me something.
12345 PEPSI 12345 PEPSI
A combination! Of course. They sent two messengers, to avoid any possible interception. With a flash of light, I realized their secular increments added together equaled a full secular component.
3.4 6.6 12345 PEPSI
I searched the man’s outline. The dark hair, tight curls hiding like the dark folds of the other man’s coat.
The man seemed to read my thoughts, turned to me and smiled.
Yes, this is the one.
“How about some Pepsi?,” I shouted. A rush of relief passed over me. Long years of waiting for the proper convergence, over at last.
A look of pain passed over the man’s face. Across the aisle the other messenger stared at me, angrily. What had I done? Of course! How stupid! I had disclosed their purpose to all these strangers on the bus. Who knows how many of them were infiltrators, sent by the enemy to prevent the coming convergence.
Then the man began to laugh. Now both of them were laughing. I realized at once they were laughing to throw anyone who might have heard my comment off the track. A joke, of course a joke. If they were called before the Grand Tribunal, they would claim it had all been a joke.
“That was a good one,” I said loudly, to assure anyone listening that I had only been joking. I laughed even louder.
“Oh God,” the man beside me said and bent his head between his knees. I could tell he was as overcome as I was.
“I’m not the only one,” I whispered. I wanted to let him know I had not been wasting my time. I had established a network of contacts, on both sides, ready to do whatever was necessary.
“Oh God, I can’t stop,” he said. “How do I stop?”
I knew he had been pressed too far too soon. I stopped laughing, suddenly worried that the fate of the convergence and the secular control I had worked for was now in the hands of one so weak. At least the other messenger seemed more in control.
I decided right away not to trust in these two. Despite their intentions, they did not seem equal to the task.
It took a supreme will and constant devotion to ensure success.
I caught the rhythm of the secular increments again and watched out the window for any signs or portents of their future.
12345 12345 PEPSI 12345 12345 PEPSI
The bus stopped again, and the two messengers rose. The reality viewer showed a hopeful picture, a tall building with many dark windows, a pigeon walking on the thirteenth window ledge. I waited until the pigeon had flown and away, and I knew it was safe.
“Bye,” I said daringly to the first messenger. “Good luck,” I whispered.
“Goodbye,” he said.
The bus pulled out slowly.
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