I wrote The Bus Trip awhile back, but never posted it. I had entered it in a contest:
The house was still. Everyone was asleep. Natty slipped out of her room, her backpack on her back, and crept downstairs, out the front door, and down the driveway to the street. The day had been warm, but a chill from the coming winter could be felt, and Natty was grateful for the sweater jacket she was wearing.
Thirty minutes later, she walked into the bus station on the edge of the little town she’d lived in all her life. The scattered passengers looked pale and rumpled under the fluorescent lights. A few appeared to be dozing in the old wooden seats, worn smooth and concave from years of passengers coming and going.
Some were reading; one old man was gazing off into the distance. He looked at Natty indifferently, and then looked away. A small group of young people were looking at their iPads or Smartphones. On the far side of the room sat a middle aged woman, knitting. She glanced up and smiled at Natty.
Natty settled herself in a wooden seat to wait for the bus. She’d timed her departure to wait the minimum time in the station, reducing the risk of being discovered and taken back home. The bus rolled in ten minutes later, belching a cloud of gray smoke, and braking with an ear-piercing shriek.
The sleepy passengers gathered their belongings and formed a straggling line in front of the bus. While the driver loaded bags, everyone climbed the steps and found their own space, bivouacs of privacy in the dark and quiet.
The young people went to the back, laughing and talking; the old man found a window seat halfway down the aisle, leaned his head against the window, and went to sleep. Natty found a window seat toward the front of the bus. The middle aged woman, fluffy brown hair streaked with gray, framing a sweet face, stood by Natty’s row of seats.
“Do you mind if I sit here on the aisle? I don’t like to sit alone,” she said.
“Sure, I don’t mind,” said Natty. In truth, she felt a little relieved that this comfortable looking older woman would be sitting near her.
The bus pulled out with another belch of smoke and a squeal of brakes, and everyone settled in to enjoy the ride. Natty leaned her head against the window, gazing out into the darkness past her reflection. She and her companion rode in silence. The seat light over the woman’s head made a pool of yellow as she sat knitting, leaving the rest of the bus and passengers to fade away into the darkness.
“Where are you off to?” asked the woman, breaking into Natty’s thoughts.
“New York,” said Natty. “I’m going to find a job, audition in the theaters; have some fun.”
“That sounds wonderful,” said her companion, nodding.
“What are you making?” asked Natty.
“A scarf, the kind you can wind around your neck to help keep the wind out. Do you know how to knit?”
“My mom taught me a little last summer. I knitted a scarf like that, too. I lost it somewhere, though. It was pink and blue. It was made of that real fluffy yarn. The kind that looks like it’s got a cloud around it.”
Natty smiled, remembering the trouble she’d had negotiating that yarn, but how addicting knitting had been. If her mom hadn’t stopped her, that scarf would have been ten feet long.
“You’re very young to be all alone. Do your parents know you’re here?” asked her companion.
“Yes,” said Natty. “They bought me the ticket. They know I can take care of myself.”
The lie was necessary; Natty was a mature 15, but looked 18, and she didn’t want anyone to stop her, or try to call her parents.
“I traveled by myself once, when I was your age. So long ago.”
The woman sighed, and smiled. “I went to New York, too. I’ll never forget it. Those kinds of things can make you grow up in a hurry, but I was bound and determined to do what I wanted.” She shook her head.
“What happened?” asked Natty. “Did you find a job?”
“Yes,” said the woman. “I worked as a waitress for many years, tried to keep up with my dance and acting lessons, rent, utilities, going to shows, and running to auditions, every chance I got.”
“You wanted to dance and act, too?” asked Natty. This middle aged, comfortable woman seemed so far removed from the glamour associated with Broadway.
“Yes, I did. I was good, too,” said the woman.
“What happened?” asked Natty again. ‘What happened’ was a favorite refrain, one she’d been asking all her life.
“A lot of things. I couldn’t keep up with all my expenses, and I guess I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I’d been taking dance lessons for many years, and even had a chance for a dance scholarship for college, but left home before I even finished high school. I’d do it differently now, if I had the chance,” the woman said.
“Were you in any shows at all?” asked Natty.
“Yes, I was hired for the chorus many times, and it was more fun than anything I’d ever done. But, you get older, and the shows want fresh young dancers, and without more education, I couldn’t find a better job. I met my husband there, though, so I can’t complain.”
“Was he a dancer, too?” Natty asked.
“No, he was a stage hand, who’d come to New York on a lark. He was planning to go back home and finish college after a year or two, but he wanted to have a little adventure before he settled down. We moved back to his home town, got married, had three kids, and now he’s retired. We’re enjoying doing what we want to do, visiting the grandkids, traveling a little, knitting..” The woman chuckled.
“That sounds nice,” said Natty, although in truth, she thought it sounded like the most boring thing she’d ever heard. It sounded exactly like her mother and father.
They lapsed once more into silence. Natty gazed out the window at the passing towns, lying in the darkness. A few lights shone here and there, perhaps signifying a wakeful person, gazing at the ceiling and wondering about what might have been?
Natty’s flights of fancy were cut off when the driver announced over the PA that the next stop would be coming up in ten minutes. The woman began to gather up her knitting.
“That’s my stop,” she said. “I know it’s atrociously early, but I hope Jim is there waiting for me. It’s nice visiting the folks, but better coming back home.” She smiled at Natty. “You take care of yourself, dear,” she said. “And have fun.”
“I will, thank you,” said Natty.
“Here,” said the woman. “You take this. It’ll be cold before you know it, in New York.” She handed Natty the scarf she’d been knitting.
“Thank you,” said Natty again. “That’s very nice of you.”
The bus pulled into another small station, and the woman made her way to the front to disembark. She turned at the door, and waved at Natty.
“Good bye, Natty,” she said softly, but loud enough for Natty to hear.
How’d she know my name, Natty wondered. She’d been determined to use another name, but hadn’t decided which one sounded glamorous enough, of the few she’d chosen.
The woman stepped off the bus and Natty watched her walk down the platform, appearing and then disappearing into the pools of darkness between the lights. She disappeared one final time, and Natty turned back around. She switched on the little seat light overhead, and looked down at the scarf the woman had given her, fingering the soft wool.
The scarf was soft and fluffy, the pink and blue yarn forming a nimbus around it. It was the sort of scarf that was sure to keep the wind out of your collar.
By: Gigi Wolf All rights reserved.