The late night before. The heat. The lack of fresh air. The seemingly never ending hum of tires on highway. Something.
Something is making him sleepy.
He doesn’t mind. It is the soft, welcoming kind of drifting off.
He must have missed a stop. Some town. Some place. He notices that there are more heads talking, laughing, drooping and coughing than before.
He adjusts his earbuds.
He listens to a song by the big indie rock band du jour. The critics marveled at how they captured the sound of a generation. “Aware of the pessimism, but not consumed by it… open to the possibilities… bridging the technological distance…”
His laptop is still open on his lap.
Even if his eyes don’t want to focus on the words. At first.
He reads what he typed before the sneaky nap.
“how can it be
a missed opportunity
if it was never
if you’re not
Unsatisfied, he deletes them.
He turns to look out the window. Through his own translucent reflection, he sees the run-down buildings of an unfamiliar city meandering by. He thinks about how it looks like a music video. He thinks about how he should try making music videos.
He realizes he is drifting off again.
The bus comes to a stop. He barely notices.
Heads come. Heads go.
The lack of movement is keeping him from finding the sleep.
He watches a couple more people board.
The door closes.
He realizes there are few empty seats left.
Including one next to him.
Two people make their way down the aisle.
A sneezing octogenarian man.
And a lovely twenty-something woman, with slightly messy hair, who is smiling at children playing and giggling in seats near the front.
He already knows which was this is going to go. The universe doesn’t like him. The universe has made this clear on many occasions. He picks his baseball cap up off the aisle seat next to him and places it on his head. He prepares himself for conversations about how music has been shit since The Glen Miller Band.
Suddenly the old man finds a seat three rows up. And sneezes.
The girl continues down the aisle.
He waits for her to find another seat. Or for her to realize she’s on the wrong bus. Or for a meteor the size of a Subaru to smash through the roof of the bus.
All three seem equally plausible to him.
She stops next to him and looks at the empty aisle seat.
“Do you mind?”
“Fill your boots,” he replies.
He wonders, for a moment, if now is the right time to have busted out a local colloquialism. He shakes it off.
“Thanks,” she exhales.
He pulls out his ear buds.
She sits. They exchanges looks.
She opens her laptop.
“I’m addicted to gmail,” she says.
He points to his own screen.
“I see. You feel my pain then,” she continues.
“Opted for the ninja theme. Nice.”
He can’t tell if she is mocking. Her eyes are sparking too much for him to really care.
“Are you going to or coming from something?” he asks.
“Both… I guess.”
He’s intrigued, but figures there’ll be many miles for him to find out more.
She tells him that she’s shy and that it takes her a while to open up — in the middle of a stretch where she tells him at least a dozen stories.
He likes it.
He tells his own stories.
They sit quietly.
He watches the scenery going by. She leans over him a little to watch too.
They go by “Last chance for” rest stops and fields of crops that neither of them know anything about and factories and houses full of hopes and dreams being achieved and dashed and they take it all in.
She puts her hand on his forearm.
He looks at her shiny hair.
Her laptop beeps.
A chat window opens.
“Work,” she crinkles her nose at the flirtus interruptus.
She replies to the chat.
He starts typing too.
Good words flow.
In the right order.
He types faster.
She wraps up her work.
She notices the poem-shaped writing on his screen.
“Inspiration hit?” she asks.
“Must be the company,” she grins.
He nods. He feels shy but wants to share. The words belong to her as much as they do to him.
“Want to read?” he asks.
“Absolutely I do.”
He turns his laptop to her.
A single tear forms in her eye.
“It is,” he replies.
“Nobody has ever… for me… you know?”
She takes a deep breath. She reads the words again. She turns to him and —
The bus veers suddenly.
The passengers scream.
Then it veers in the other direction.
People and their belongings bounce around.
“It’s lunch time!”
“It’s lunch time!!!!”
A little boy spins his toy bus around in his hand.
He lets out a sigh of resignation. He tosses the bus into his overflowing toy box.
“There better be tater tots, mom!”