I am embarking on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is B for Bus.
No One on this Bus but Us
Barry felt as though he had been on the bus for a week. His back was throbbing; his left ankle and foot had fallen asleep, and he had to pee like a racehorse...again. Next time the bus stopped at a Dairy Queen, he would leave that twenty ounce soda behind. Meanwhile, he’d have to climb over the man who had managed to cram himself into the aisle seat, still one more time.
It wasn’t that the bus was all that miserable; it’s just that traveling to a little place just outside of North Platte, Nebraska, during the week between Christmas and New Years, was the last thing he wanted to be doing, especially for the reason that required him to be taking this route in the first place. Why did ANYONE go home unexpectedly? There had been an accident; there would be a funeral. It was as simple as that.
But good grief! Why did traveling always involve such horridly uncomfortable conditions? Right now, in this stuffed bus, he’d have given anything for a space in which he could stretch out and gain relief of his aches and pains, for at least a few minutes. He would also like to be able to get out from next to the guy sitting beside him, who took up more than his share of the space in this tiny section of the bus.
Take that seat over in the next aisle, and down one row. Why couldn’t he be sitting there, next to the attractive gal? He’d know exactly what to say, and just what to do, if he only had the luck to be sitting there, instead of where he was. But this was reality, not Fantasy-Land at DisneyWorld. All he could do was grit his teeth and bear it for the next sixteen hours. He’d been on this bus for twelve hours already, and it was the longest twelve hours of his life.
Get over it, he told himself repeatedly. He hadn’t bothered to ask the man, sitting next to him, where he was heading and how long it would take to get there. He had been afraid of the answer he would get. Therefore, he got the shock of his life, when the bus pulled into Boise, Idaho, and the man stood up, reached up into the rack to grab his bags, and departed without so much as a glance at Barry, who was glad, because if the guy had sneaked a peak, he would have been disconcerted at the jubilant expression on Barry’s face.
He got a second jolt when, unexpectedly, his FantasyLand girl abruptly stood up, turned around and staring right at him, moved back and asked, “Is someone sitting in this seat?”
“Not any more,” said Barry. “Besides, he wasn’t sitting here, so much as he was occupying this section of the bus. I was just a hostage.”
She snickered and took the seat, commenting as she did so, “I can’t stand the dude sitting next to me. What a dweeb. Are you really from NorCal? I couldn’t help but notice your hoodie, while we were dining at the Dairy Queen.”
The way she emphasized the word “dining” left nothing to the imagination, as far as her opinion of the Dairy Queen was concerned. “I’m not actually from California; I go to school at Humboldt State. I’m originally from Nebraska, but don’t let that get around. I won’t be returning for more than a few days, anytime in this life or the next.” He rolled his eyes to emphasize the point.
“Humboldt State? Is that in Humboldt County?” She giggled, got awfully red in the face, and said, “Don’t say it...Here’s my sign,” while laughing again good-naturedly.
“The very same,” he said, adding, “Humboldt is pretty well-known, but more because of its agriculture, not its university.”
She looked momentarily confused before she got it, and laughed again, a tinkling sound that tickled his fancy in a big-time way. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean, though I have not had the pleasure of indulging.”
“Yeah, me neither. First of all I can’t afford it, and second, if I started that business, I wouldn’t get a whole lot done in school.” He looked apologetic, as though she had just asked him for a handout.
“What’s your major?” she asked, obviously interested in making with the palaver.
“Environmental Studies,” he said, “with a minor in Spanish.”
“Spanish?” she asked, seemingly surprised. “Why Spanish?”
“Well, I already had a working knowledge of Spanish from my four years of it in high school, and then, being in California, I know there are a lot of Hispanic people, so it can’t hurt.” He looked sideways at her, encouraging some sort of comment.
“So you plan on living and working in California? I guess that’s what you meant by not going back to Nebraska...” Her voice trailed off. “I’d like to live in California, but I just don’t know.”
“Know what?” Barry felt the conversation was going extremely well. “What don’t you know?” This girl was beautiful!
“Well, you know how it goes. California isn’t for everyone.” She looked downright pained.
“Well, thank the powers that be for that. There are enough people there already, but there may be room for one more...” He gave her his brightest smile.
“Well, there would have to be room for two,” she said, lamely.
“Why’s that?” he asked, obviously not getting it.
“Well, I’m on my way to meet my boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Those sixteen hours just got a lot longer.