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No One To No Where
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No One To No Where
Short story about a woman on a greyhound bus to El Paso.
Female teenager in the Southwest.
No One To No Where
Noone to Nowhere
I was on the bus. The bus, that time span of concentrated people and possibility. Anything can happen on a bus. And it does. And it did.
More specifically, I was in the back of a Greyhound, sleeping awake on the window with the glass as a pillow and my backpack as a blanket. It was around three in the morning, in August, and the Big Dipper was just spooning into the Texas horizon to my right. A toddler at the front whimpered with each jostle, and a mother sang to her child a Mexican lullaby just behind me. Two teenage Oriental boys, cigarettes waiting for the next bus stop hanging from their shirt pockets, sat across the aisle, both appearing much too alert for the hour. A bit ahead, a young beautiful black woman slept next to an old frail grandpa from Chicago, wearing worn brown leather shoes and a similar jacket. The quiet yet punctuated murmur of this strange humanity filled the room; that isolated room, bumbling subtly along in the vast Texas night, severed from existence until the 5:30 stop.
Buses are magic. They do not qualify as real life. They create a situation inimitable in real life. They attract people of all origins, motives, and destinations. You are as likely to come across the destitute immigrant bringing illegal prescription drugs to his grandmother in Tucson, as the diamond-clad grandmother on her way to fulfill her life’s dream of experiencing the New York opera. The person you are sleeping next to could pull a knife on you, or fall in love with you, or walk away in the Amarillo station without ever realizing your presence.
The baby cried out, predicting by a few seconds the gas station we were pulling into. The murmur faltered as eyes opened and limbs stretched. Suddenly, the door squealed open and we were again merged with the real world. Tires rumbled on the highway, a boom box crooned scratchy Elvis tunes from the back of the station, and the comforting engine noises ceased, thrusting me back to the here and now.
I walked with the crowd outside, needing to stretch and breath fresh air. Or as fresh as a gas station south of San Angelo permits. The two teenage Orientals, with the same idea, lit their cigarettes.
“Hey gorgeous, where you headed?” The voice startled me from behind.
“I’m, umm, ending in El Paso.”
“That right? I lived there a bit. Not heading back though.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t mean to end a friendly conversation; I was strangely unsure of what to say in the unexpected exchange. Instead, I headed back for the bus, trying to appear tired, trying to avoid conversation, but not knowing why.
I sat the last four minutes of the stop in my seat by the back window, rearranging the books in my bag in the vain effort of creating a more adequate blanket out of them. As the familiar growl of the engine restarted, the last people got on and resettled.
“Mind if I sit here?” The voice again startled me, but this time from my left.
“Oh, sure, the spot’s empty,” I said, putting my backpack on the floor to make room. I wondered why that spot had been his choosing, and also why I had not seen him on the bus earlier, and whether he had even been there. Hitchhiker, I figured. Greyhound doesn’t check tickets at fuel stops.
He had on black jeans and a faded blue T-shirt from Buddy’s Texas Barbecue. Odd, I thought, as I noticed he carried nothing with him. His empty hands were dark, like the rest of his skin, browned by work under southern summer sun. His body testified to this effort, with sharp definition in his skin of the underlying muscles and veins. His dark brown, almost black, hair fell loose and natural over his forehead. The color matched his eyes exactly.
“If not El Paso,” I said, feeling a sudden need to break the silence, “where are you going?”
“No where. Dallas, Phoenix, Reno, Kansas City. Could be anywhere.”
I didn’t ask for explanation.
The Big Dipper by now had a good piece of the horizon in its grasp. I tried to see it dipping, dipping, dipping… Its timelessness escaped my vision. Only the extended blink of sleep can notice the change. I settled for that alternative.
“Your hands are beautiful.” Again, his voice startled me, coming from behind my just closing eyelids. I didn’t answer.
The young black woman ahead of me blinked, stood up, and walked past. The baby was finally peaceful, but still the Mexican lullaby continued, droning on in a beautiful white noise behind me.
His hand moved towards mine. I watched the tendons and bones and muscles, so alive in his dark skin, move so articulately as he traced my knuckles and wrist with his fingertips and eyes. Simultaneously I found myself tracing the perimeter of his eyes, with mine, and ending up in a stare right through the center, through the gaping hole to his mind and soul.
The black woman walked back to her seat, and the old man from Chicago adjusted his faded brown leather jacket out of her way. The taller oriental boy said something in a mysterious dialect to his companion, and was answered with a nod. The baby whimpered, then sighed, as the rumble and tremble of the room continued as welcome, yet unappreciated, as breath.
I saw in his mind lost purpose, and in his soul, calm. His fingertips, one or two or three in soft but sharp contact with my skin, moved slowly around my hand. Then I realized mine did the same to his. The realization startled me. Something caught at him in the same second, and our eyes jumped together, and locked. I saw him see the same things through my eyes, staring so expressionless, yet simultaneously screaming the secrets of my soul.
We were closer than I realized. Closer than would be comfortable in real life. But on the bus, in the back seat of an isolated moving world, we were too far apart. His hand reached up as we silently acknowledged this, and moved the stray strands of hair from my face. It still stayed there, though, in the curve of my neck, and his face fell through the final distance and touched mine. I felt his mouth brush my forehead, and then my lips. I felt the life burning in his arms, and sensed his soul leaking through his skin into mine.
I don’t completely know how two strangers can so meld. On a bus, though, they are not strangers.
I don’t completely know how long I shared that existence. Existence without purpose, momentarily passionate.
The baby cried out, predicting by a few seconds the station we were pulling into. The door squealed open, and the roar of early morning silence replaced the seemingly immortal pulse of the bus as we were thrust unwillingly back into real life, like walking into bright, loud sunlight after the peace of a dark empty room.
He stood up with the crowd, and joined the murmur of bodies leaving the room. I stayed. The Big Dipper had almost a full spoonful of the surrounding land.
The stop passed instantaneously. Immediately the lullabies continued and the cigarettes were put out and the baby was hushed whimpering back to sleep. The engine restarted, and we pulled back onto the highway to El Paso.
Through the window, a lost soul still stood in the station, looking into the handle of the Dipper, headed for Dallas, Phoenix, Reno, or Kansas City. Then he simply turned and walked, nameless, in the inevitable direction of nowhere.
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© 2002 Alina Marquez
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