by Tyler Barton

 

Every purple seat was taken, and the aisle’s standing room had shrunk. The bus-driver waved everyone on anyway. She wore orange-tinted glasses, her hair in one big braid. She never closed the door or gave a sorry shrug. Her open hand never left the air—come on come on. The line inched in, each rider’s face pleading, Nobody look at me. I fidgeted with my phone, glanced out the window. Snowy, silver morning. The last leg of my ride. One long hill until my office. Me and the dreadlocked guy beside me, we shook our heads together, No.

Once the aisle was full, the passengers touched. Elbows brushed. Shoes overlapped. Butts bumped into coat zippers. Our faces shared the same looks: Doesn’t she owe it to us to say no? With my forehead pressed to the window, I saw the faces of those in line—honestly, they almost wanted to walk.

I caught her orange eyes in the wide mirror. They said Have faith. They told me Think out, not in. I tried to smile—it wouldn’t take. She turned to survey her charge. Colorful puff-jackets packed together like Play-Doh. Girlfriends sat on each other’s laps. We were temple to temple. She yelled, “Well?” and began lifting kids onto the up-stretched hands of the right rows. New passengers crowd-surfed their way to the back. The windows fogged—all outside disappeared. Each new passenger whispered, Ask not what the bus can do for us. I wiggled floor-ward like a school drill. At the wheel, she laughed, pressed the gas, and I wasn’t even late to work.

I forget, every morning since, to ask about the picture she snapped just before we unpacked: inward-facing camera, the top of her hard head in the foreground, this mess of hope built behind her.

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Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT. His stories have appeared in Monkybicycle, Mud Season Review, Hobart, NANO Fiction, and Smokelong Quarterly.
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