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The Daily Commute
Two people are leaving an office building at the same time, just as they always do. Both are respectable businessmen, clad in dark gray suits in the latest fashion with designer watches and shiny black shoes. One is thinking of sales reports and graphs and charts and customer service representatives, of the wife and two children who await his return to his medium-sized house in the suburbs.
One is not.
They go this way together every day. They board the bus together, briefcases in hand, walking near each other but not really acknowledging one another, never having shared a conversation. Each looks straight ahead, poised and dignified and appearing to think of nothing but getting on the bus and going where it takes him. The bus is filled with the afternoon rush of dozens of passengers, but after a while only these two will remain.
The two men sit across from each other on the bus, each staring over the other's head out the windows at the blur of cars and trees and offices. One of them clasps his hands together and crosses his legs, still gazing into space, and the other gets a slightly panicked look on his face and hurries to do the same. The first man barely notices.
He uncrosses his legs and reaches for his briefcase after a few blocks, just as he always does. A perfectly folded, crisp newspaper emerges from the briefcase, and he opens it and hides his face behind the daily news of stock market tradings and terrible wars in faraway countries.
Just like always.
The other man reaches for his own briefcase and opens it in his lap. The overflowing contents spill out onto the floor of the bus and he rushes to gather them up, shoving a collection of rubber ducks, a flowered parasol, a wizard hat, an oil painting, and a pair of bright yellow galoshes back in the briefcase, stealing secret glances at the man across from him. He breathes a sigh of relief when he sees that he hasn't been noticed and that his silent companion's face is still hidden behind the newspaper. The second man has found the wad of newspaper he was looking for and he opens the rumpled pages, occasionally sneaking a look across at the other man and changing his posture slightly to match his.
His newspaper is upside down. Just like every other day.
The bus rushes on through the city, brakes squealing and grinding to a stop every few blocks to trade out passengers at crowded bus stops. It speeds toward the suburbs, the number of people on board gradually dwindling until only the two businessmen remain in their seats.
The last stop before the one that will deliver the man with the crisp newspaper to his ordinary home is a stop that looks like it should not be a bus stop at all. Seemingly at a random spot along the highway, this bus stop is nowhere near any homes or offices or stores. The stop is right in front of a grove of trees identical to a million other ones by the road except for a huge wrought-iron gate in front of it that looks like it was built in medieval times. The fact that it is not attached to any sort of wall or fence makes one wonder why heavy bolts connected to a giant keyhole hold it shut when one could simply walk around it.
This is where the man with the rumpled newspaper gets off the bus.
The ordinary man does not look up as his companion rises, just like always. He reads on, through more news of the economy and of wars that will never affect him.
As he ambles to the front of the nearly empty bus, the man who is exiting crumples his old newspaper into a ball and shoves it into his briefcase to be used again tomorrow. He tips his hat to the bus driver in thanks.
A small patch of his hair is lime green.
He shuffles down the steps to the sidewalk, swinging his briefcase at his side, before remembering to walk elegantly and sedately like the professional he is supposed to be. He walks more stiffly and holds his head up higher, a bit awkwardly.
The bus driver smiles secretly as he pushes the button to close the bus door behind the man, and the bus stays still as the driver fiddles with something in some compartment or another, waiting to see the man on the sidewalk depart as usual.
He stands before the gate and throws his briefcase over it, and it lands with a soft whump on the mossy ground beyond. Standing on one foot, the man pulls a huge, ornate key from the sleeve of his fancy suit. Made of the same old, dark metal as the heavy gate is, it dangles from a faded blue ribbon that is fraying and worn. The key is shaped in an intricate design that looks a little like a treetop and the end that goes in the lock is a complicated jigsaw puzzle with squares and triangles and even hexagons cut out of it.
He uses both hands to thrust it into the keyhole, and the effort it takes him to turn it in the lock with much grating and grinding of bolts lifts him clear off his feet. The gate swings inward from its posts with a rusty, protesting squeak of hinges and, feet still off the ground, the man swings inward with it, clutching the giant key. He lands smoothly and dusts off his hands, then leans his back against the heavy gate to close it once more and turns the key to slide the rusting bolts back into place.
Through the gate's metal bars, the bus driver can see the man retrieve his briefcase and open it up on the ground. Off come his shiny businessman's shoes and he drops them in the briefcase, exchanging them for the pair of bright yellow, knee-height galoshes. He pulls them onto the wrong feet.
The man yanks the giant key out of the keyhole and stashes it in his left galosh. He snaps his briefcase shut. Stomping his feet on the leaf-covered ground, he turns in a circle exactly seven and a half times, his hands raised in the air above his head. Then he stands absolutely still for a moment. Then he vanishes in a puff of lime green smoke.
The driver shakes his head with a knowing chuckle and starts the bus. The remaining businessman on the bus has not emerged from behind his newspaper and doesn't notice a thing.
Just like always.