by Coen Ketter
Arturo sat in the back with the wind-up kids: the broken, scarred, and scoured teenagers that received letter marks in kindergarten for “bad behavior,” and could only surmise how their father’s name felt on their tongue. He drew in his little notebook – hood pulled over, headphones plugged in – scrawling pages of six-shooter men with hard-carved visages. Your John Wayne and Eastwood types. He could have been something in Hollywood. Not one of those kids who chase their dreams and end up sweeping the halls of greater men. He could have been a movie-star stud, or a Kubrick-type director that wore only tweed and had wild eyes.
But then I crashed the bus, and he only featured once in the forgettable print of a local newspaper.
Brittany was born in Western Philadelphia, in a quirky state-secret of a small-town known only by its constituents – the kind that belongs in Stephen King novels. Her father was a businessman that smoked a lot of cigarettes, disappeared for weeks at a time, and once called her by the wrong name. Her mother, a home-maker, saw a life-time of mistakes in her daughter because Brittany looked like her. Neither paid her much attention, and she grew up eager to please. Lively, with a sunflower smile, and a belief that even strangers were friends, Brittany was a truly “good” person. In the future, she would work for the Make-A-Wish foundation, and adopt three kids, treating them with the warmth and affection she had been starved of as a child. Her co-worker called her one of the few lights this world had left.
But then I crashed the bus, and I blew her silent without a wish.
Donald was a future heroin addict, who would kill a man for his wallet. He would go on to accomplish nothing and die, withering and emaciated, in a shanty-town, covered in rags and a miasma of desperation and stale disappointment. An embarrassment to his wealthy surname.
But then I crashed the bus, and he died young and pure.
Ajit was me, a thirty-something bus driver that ferried middle-schoolers every morning and evening. I was born in the shadow of the Himalayan mountains, which I never visited, and spent my early days burying myself in stolen books and throwing rocks at trains that coughed sulfur and smoke into the air. My mother died on her ninth kid, and my father kicked me out at the age of thirteen because he couldn’t feed his twelfth. He paid for me to go to the capital, Kathmandu, where air was second-hand smoke and tar flowed in rivers. I worked at a gym there. My sister went to America and overstayed my visa when I visited. I married a woman named Bernadette who has a soft smile, rosy cheeks, and a tender way of saying “I love you.” She taught me English. She was pregnant with my kid, who I would have watched grow up to surpass me in every way. Star student. Junior boxing champion. Johns Hopkins Pre-Med graduate. I would have been there at his white coat ceremony, my heart fluttering with pride, and I would have died with my shaking left hand gripping his, and my right hand gripping my wife’s. It would have been a good life.
But then I crashed the bus.