I’ve always found buses to be the loneliest form of transportation. The gyrating windows and screeches are accompanied by perfect strangers, the crowd too crammed together to allow for the added intimacy of eye contact. The ebb and flow of bodies politely swaying. We take up space without acknowledging ever having done so—embarrassed to be spotted in the fray. So finding myself on this gray bus on this gray day should be the grandest torture I have in store.
It should be.
I find comfort in my phone. The tiny box allows for just the type of dissociation I have in mind for this journey. My eyes are glued to a shaking screen and I remind myself not to slouch. Straighten as if startled. I return to a message from the most important contact, the ICE, the person in charge in case anything should go horribly wrong (In Case of Emergency). I gave her my life to hold in her hands. What more could she want from me?
Shit, shit, shit, she’s calling. Why do people do that? In this day and age? At least give me the decency of politely deleting text messages instead of pressing the hang up button at least twice. And please don’t leave me a voicemail. The angst of another’s recorded words necessitates a depth of response I refuse to give anyone. I turn my phone off.
Some woman brushes past and wacks me on the head, but she’s gone long before the stun wears off. Her scent lingers—a musk of cigarettes and smoky perfume. I lull into the ashed aroma and find odd comfort in the promise of a vanished flame.
A small girl curls up in a woman’s lap across the aisle from me, and she reminds me of little Luna when she was small and would fall asleep on me during airplane journeys. The airplane is far superior to the bus unless you’re trapped under a younger and adoring sister, forbidden from moving even a single muscle lest she stir. The girl’s head pops up, straightening and twisting and growing restless. The woman lifts her gently, catching my eye with a startling kindness.
I realize we have the same stop.
I wait for the little girl to toddle down the steep stairs, and smile. She waves the magical childhood goodbye to the bus driver and pries out a crack of a grin on the grumpy man’s face. In truth she looks more like me than Luna. I remind myself I also know the comfort of curling up in the safety of a lap, and watch as the pair wander off. I hope they don’t slip on their journey.
I steel myself at the bottom of the brick stairs, slinging grocery bags and a scarf over my straightened shoulders. I ascend without grace and knock twice.
There she is—ICE.
In a flurry of snatching bags and removing layered coats, I find myself unsheathed. She clutches me, trailing cigarette ash and a deep sigh. Finally, she draws back. Brown eyes mirror mine.
“Hi, mom. Sorry I couldn’t take your calls, you know how dreary the bus gets.” She looks at me with—what is that?—bashfulness?
“I was worried you wouldn’t come.”
“Of course, mom. I promised.” Luna tackles me.
“Happy thanksgiving, sis! See mom? I never doubted.” she gives me a wink. I lean into ICE’s shoulder, and say,
“I just needed some silence with strangers to reset.” We turn and make our way to the kitchen. I’m sure she’s hurt. ICE always takes it personally.
After busied pie instructions and a lot of flour, I pick up a wine glass and turn to my mother. Luna left long ago for some project or hangout or something else that a social butterfly would do—even during the holiday.
My mother pours me just over a glass of red, then hands me the bottle to pour hers. A ritual of alcohol and silence. We are alone leaning against the countertops in a mirrored image for a moment, just long enough for me to say,
“I ran into someone who reminded me of you today.” She looks suspicious. I put down my glass before even attempting a sip, and she does the same with a clang of surprise.
“Yeah. Yeah.” I gingerly hug her, feeling her relax. “You have the same perfume.”