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On a Bus

There is a bus driver called Harry. He circles the same bus route every day, accompanied by the same people. The woman who works two jobs to support three kids on her own. The man in the suit who seems to constantly read newspapers. And the old woman who goes to the cemetery every night.

Tonight, however, as Harry is approaching one of his final stops, he sees someone trying to flag him down. A boy. A fat boy.

He stops the bus, though it is not one of his usual stops, and the fat boy gets on the bus. He deposits two quarters and takes a seat right in front without a word.

“Shouldn’t you be home by now, boy?” Harry asks. It’s past ten and the boy looks no older than twelve or thirteen.

“I don’t ask you about your business,” the boy says. “You don’t ask me about mine.”

Harry isn’t one for arguing, so he continues on his way. He stops a few blocks down and picks up the old woman. She hobbles onto the bus, gives him the change, and sits down in a seat across from the boy.

“Well hey there,” she says to him. “It’s pretty late for you to be on this bus, huh?”

The boy shrugs. “I suppose so.”

“What’s your name, boy?” she asks.

“Alfred.”

She laughs. “Alfred? You unfortunate thing. Who named you that?”

“I don’t know.”

“What d’you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t have a mom or dad. So I don’t know.”

“Then who’s taking care of you? Your granny? Your auntie?”

“Nobody.”

“How’s nobody taking care of you.”

“My dad left when I was a baby and my mom was on drugs, so people decided I shouldn’t live there and sent me to live with this other family. The dad drinks all the time and the mom works almost all day because of us seven kids. I hate it there. So I left. And this is where I wound up.”

“Where do you plan on running to?”

He shrugs. “California?”

“That’s pretty far.”

“I got enough money.”

“Well don’t go yelling about that. You never know who could take it while your back’s turned.”

Suddenly, the bus stops. Alfred looks out the window and sees a graveyard. The old woman gets off the bus and hobbles towards it.

“What’s she doing?” Alfred asks Harry.

“Sayin’ hello to her husband.”

“Did he die?”

“He did. On April the 2nd. Of a heart attack.”

“Does she do this a lot?”

“Every night.”

“Why at night?” Alfred asks.

“Because no one else is around?”

“Oh.”

The woman walks slowly back on the bus and says, “Take me home, Harry.”

“Sure thing, Gertie.”

Gertie turns to Alfred. “You know, almost every day I say to Harry here, ‘Harry, you’re a scrawny man, but a good one’,“ she says. “Look at him. Skin and bones.”

Compared to Alfred he certainly was.

“So where do you plan on going after this, Alfred? Surely Harry can’t take you all the way to California.”

“I guess I’ll have to find some other way, then.”

Gertie is quiet for a long while. “But if what if he could?” she asks.

“What if he could what?”

“Harry! What if you could take Alfred to California?”

Harry laughs, but stops when he sees her face. She’s serious.

“I don’t know …” Harry says.

“None of us has any family,” she insists. “We could travel right on this bus. All the way to California.”

“We don’t have enough money,” Harry tries.

Alfred lifts his bag. “I do.”

There is a long silence as Harry ponders this. They are approaching Gertie’s stop.

“Come on, Harry,” she says. “What do you say? Take us to California?”

The bus begins to slow at her stop, and with a cringe that he is probably making the biggest mistake of his life, Harry presses on the gas, and they keep going.

To California.



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