August 26, 2017
I wake up. My head leans against the window, rubbing my long, shaggy black hair and acne smothered face against the barrier between me and the outside world. It is pure green and lush and beautiful. The thick leaves of grass flowing softly in the gentle wind and growing up to the windows of the bus go on for miles, eventually meeting the endless vastness of the pellucid sky’s liberating blue. Held in that vastness is the scintillating Helios, watching us fly around him day after day until there is no more time.
The dirt road we travel on is bumpy. With twists and turns, we travel through the grass surrounding us, blocking our lower vision. We can only see the near-impossible happiness in the sky, but we keep going. We don’t what lies ahead, or why we deserve these bumps, but we keep going. This road we travel is unpredictable and unreliable, but still, we keep going.
I pull out my phone. After the incident, my parents took it away, and gave me a black and blue Samsung flip phone. It has a small screen on the front, “play, stop, and fast forward” buttons for music, and even a camera. It’s nothing special, but it’s definitely enough.
No notifications. Not surprising. Still, a nice “How are you doing?” from Mom or Dad would be nice.
The relentless heat and humidity of August can be felt inside the bus. The air conditioner isn’t working. I can feel the sweat dripping from my shaggy hair, rolling over my acne scarred face and neck, and falling on the filthy floor of the bus.
I get my head off of the glass. The bus appears to be older than Earth itself. It hasn’t been cleaned in who knows how long. The dark blue paint of the interior has started to deteriorate. The fabric of the seats is becoming untwined and dying ever so slowly. I have seen one or two roaches climb the wall of the bus in the past thirty seconds. I wonder how many climbed up my skin and maybe even inside of me while I slept.
The roaches move exceedingly slowly up-and-down, back-and-forth. They seem tired, fed up with all the unfairness. Sometimes, I think I can hear their calls and cries for escape and emancipation over my own.
There are three other passengers on this bus. They’re all old, tired, forgotten. Their eyes are full of hopelessness and vanquishment. Their beards are long overdue for a shave. Their double-extra-large clothes are stained and torn. The holes in their shoes show their bloody, beaten feet.
Then, there’s the driver. He’s in uniform and nice shoes, but he still expresses the same hopelessness as we do. His face is grumpy and even more unshaven; his arms clench the wheel all too tightly; his heart screams for emancipation.
The wavy shadows of the grass paint themselves on my face as we travel. I look above the grass, and all I can see is the endless vastness of the universe, containing happiness I cannot reach.
We’re all so sad in this gorgeous world.
“Hey, kid,” one of the old men says. “What’re you doing all the way in the middle of nowhere?” He appears to have gotten up and moved towards my seat while I was looking outside. His right arm rests on the shoulder of the seat next to mine, while his left arm hangs on to the overhead luggage compartment, where my navy blue and black back lie with all my belongings: clothes, toiletries, some pens, a notebook, and a phone charger. I really have nothing else anymore.
“What’s it to you?” I snap back.
“I’m just concerned. After all, ain’t nobody come to Paw Paw, Illinois unless they either were forced to, or have no place in the world.”
“What if it’s both?”
“Then, you’re one messed up kid,” he says. “May I sit?”
I think about denying him at first, but then I decide to accept. I can’t remember the last time someone wanted to sit next to me. “Go ahead.”
He sits down. “So, why are you on a bus to Paw Paw, of all places?”
“It’s a long story I will not be sharing.”
“Fine. Can you tell me where your parents are then?”
“How old are you?”
“Turning sixteen in three months.”
“And you’ve come alone?”
“None of your concern, old man.”
“You’re one nice kid, you know that? What, do you want me to care more?”
“I don’t need your sympathy.”
“Whatever you say, kid.” The old man finishes and puts his hands behind his head. A horrifying stench emanates from his pits.
Shortly after, the grass starts getting shorter and shorter until it would only run up to just above my ankles. As we emerge from the field of long grass, the world is revealed. The ankle-length grass goes on until it meets the sky at the distant horizon. Healthy, innocent, young trees pop up here and there. There are still no clouds in the ever bright, pellucid sky.
To my left is an old, cracked paved road. And, even better, there are other automobiles driving on it. There’s not a lot of cars, but I’m thankful the world hasn’t killed itself off while we were making our way through the grass. In the distance, I can see the old, cracked paved road lead into the small village of Paw Paw.
Awkwardness ensues from the long silence following our conversation. However, maybe I’m being too harsh. He’s the first friend I’ve had in a long time, after all.
“So, do you live in Paw Paw?” I ask.
“Now you want to talk, eh?”
“I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“Okay,” he seems to forgive my insults. “Yes, I do live in Paw Paw. Once you get used to it, it’s a nice town.”
“You’re happy here?”
“I’ve been here ever since I was born, and I’ve always loved living here.”
“You sure don’t look happy.”
“Yeah? How can you tell?”
“Well, not even looking at those thirty year old, torn up clothes you’re, fashionably, rocking, your soul is dismayed and dissatisfied. I can see it in your eyes.”
“Wow, you’re poetic, sarcastic, and psychic,” he chuckles. He doesn’t seem mad though. He seems happy. He likes having someone to talk to. “Y’know, you remind me a lot of myself when I was in high school. One word of advice: don’t let the world kill you. If you let the world take your heart, you ain’t yourself anymore. You’re nothing. I wish I knew that growing up.” As he finishes talking, the bus pulls up to the bus stop. The other two old men get up. “Well, this is it, kid.”
“If it means anything to you, I liked our little chat.” He gets up out of the seat. His stench remains, however.
I could lie and say it doesn’t mean anything, but I tell the truth. “It does. Really. What’s your name?”
He takes a breath and says, “You’re a weird kid, you know that?”
“Is that good?”
“Yes, it’s good. You’re mature, and you’re powerful, and you’re determined.”
“How can you tell?”
“I can see it in your eyes.” He smirks as he pulls out his brown, decaying wallet, hands me a business card. Then, he turns, grabs two bags of what appears to be raw meat, fresh eggs, and other farm products by his original seat, and walks out of the bus. “Till we meet again, kid!”