BY REBECCA LEE
Copyright is held by the author.
THE BUS station smells like stale cigarettes and something milky mixed with a sour aftertaste. Babies and homeless people. They are completely opposite from one another. One has lived too much and the other, not enough. Together they sit in the row of blue plastic seats both in front and behind me.
Overcoats are wrapped tightly around the backs of us all. It’s cold and the concrete floor feels chilly even with boots. I am wearing a black zip-up with fur and lace lining around the hood. I bought it eight years ago and it’s no longer in fashion, but other women wear something similar. We sit and wait, not looking at one another. We busy ourselves with gadgets.
On the wall in front of us there is an electronic clock with the estimated time of arrival for each bus. I watch as the number of minutes click down in precise synchronization with the incoming buses. It’s like I am God.
Number 7 is coming in 3 minutes. Number 5, which was coming in three minutes, will now be here in 2 seconds. I can see it curving around the street just a block away. This is how it will go hour after hour. In a world where babies and homeless people have places to be, there is order in the sanctity of scheduling.
People sit next to me, but there’s always a chair between us. I’ve seen the same women on the same bus for years, but I don’t know their names. The older woman who takes tiny, deliberate steps, sits at the edge of the row so she doesn’t have to maneuver around everybody else’s legs.
We are alone in our own worlds. I have my earbuds jammed inside my ears so that the entire bus station looks like an orchestrated skit moving to Bob Seger. When a man sits directly next to me, I pretend not to notice even after he waves for my attention.
“Miss,” he says, pretending to take something out of his ear. “Miss,” he says again.
His jeans are weighed down by everything I cannot see. His parka makes him look like the mascot for Michelin Tires. I no longer feel like God.
Two more minutes until the 7 will be here and then I’ll be somewhere else. I take out an earbud, but leave the other in.
“You know when the 4 gets here?”
I point to the electric screen at the front of the station where all the arrival times are posted. He doesn’t look.
“Where you going?”
The woman at the edge of the row doesn’t make eye contact and the women with babies are busy. I smile and put the earbud back in.
“You’re not going to say?” I can hear his voice and I know it registers on my face. I wish I had turned the volume up louder.
“You don’t want to talk to me?” The unspoken bus station boundaries have shattered all around me and I can smell his cigarette smoke mixing with mine. Menthol and Cowboys tangled together. I know why the babies are crying.
One minute before the bus comes and I can leave this plastic seat.
“Where are you going?” He repeats himself, but I’ve already faced the front. If I stay still, his words can’t penetrate my music.
He abruptly turns, brings his hands up in the air and then slams them down onto his knees. His sigh is audible to everyone in the station, but I still pretend not to hear.
An elderly man is staring out a window. A child is playing with his mother’s phone. I watch as the 7 silently glides into the front of the bus station as I get up to walk outside. I can see people’s mouths moving. Someone is miming laughter. We’re all together going somewhere else, but their voices are drowned by my volume.