Diana K.

An Epic Battle With a Brick Wall

His voice comes out so smooth it’s almost obscene: “I need to go to Russia.”

“Sir,” the girl says - he removes his elbow from where it had been resting against the glass obscuring her face - “sir, this is a Greyhound bus station.  We don’t offer overseas routes.”

He turns his head slightly, looks her in the eyes - he’ll look anyone in the eyes if they can’t see the way his hands are twisting, nervous, behind his back.  They’re gray.  Her eyes, not his hands, but he wouldn’t be surprised.  It’s late.  “Anyplace in mind?  Oh, I don’t know.  How about Minsk?  How’s Minsk this time of year?”

“Sir, we’re not capable of providing a bus for a location anywhere overseas.  We do have-”  She can’t hide the hint of a Georgia drawl.

“Too cold, then?  I see.  Well - uh.  I don’t know any cities in Russia.”

“We do offer buses to many cities within the continental United States, if you’d prefer.”  Here’s where, if it hadn’t been four thirty in the morning, he’d have turned around by now.  It’s absolutely necessary, really, to check faces.  He would say that it was to see if he knew anybody, but what he means is they would know me.

She has a voice like an oil spill.  It’s too much.  “Hurricane, Utah,” he says.  “Any of your buses going there?”

“Not that I’m aware of, sir; that doesn’t sound like a very large town.”  He exhales audibly and lets his eyes flash upwards, scratching at the skin on his forearm with the opposite thumb.  Very showmanshippy, just loud enough to be unconvincing.  He places one foot in front of the other - the left, so she can’t see the way the toe of the right is worn through, the fine leather nearly tissue-thin.

His sigh clearly says I’d tell you my name, if I could.  The satisfaction this brings him is almost tangible in the creases of his eyes.  “Look it up, you’ve got the computer.  Is there anything nearby, if this town’s too small for your establishment?”  From the hook of his index finger through his belt loop, it is taking a very great deal of self-restraint to keep from adding a dismissive hand gesture.  The way the girl raises her eyebrows, almost imperceptible, at every syllable he speaks suggests a sort of sharp rhythm.

He can feel the amount of time it takes her to find a suitable station and print a ticket running up the notches in his spine.  The printer, its mechanical jerks are the closest thing to an echo either has heard - they might have wondered why the station was empty before now.  They might have not.

Either way, he has his pick of cheap plastic seats twined together with metal too shiny for such a dank place.  Come to bed now, dear, you’ve had a long day.  His shoulders hit cement and he’s asleep.

He wakes up to tiny blue and black letters smeared into his palm, like he’s bruised his hand on a printing press.  A few muttered hisses, and he’s able to admit to himself that he had never really intended on taking the bus anyway, three hours late or no.  What he means and what he does - it’s better, he thinks, that they don’t cross paths.  Better that he should just stand up, now, and make his way across the tiled floor.  He is still the only person in the station, save for - oh, this is prettier, much prettier than the greasy black bars of the night before, he thinks.  Scratching his eyebrow with his thumb, he looks at the corridor of tiny shops and convenience stores lit up with fluorescence, and it reminds him of Tokyo.  Never mind that he’s barely left Manhattan.

He could get used to this, crisscrossing the hallway, placing a hand on every doorframe as he leans his head inside.  His dragging right foot is not too much of a nuisance if he keeps his hand inside his pocket, scratching at his thigh with a fingernail whenever he feels that loose ache.  The stores are all very much the same.  Still, he thinks he ought to take a look around each one, just to be sure he is not missing anything.  The same six magazines, cheap scalding coffee, a couple of items that could be passed off as breakfast foods.  He could have taken them if he so desired; there’s no one behind the counters.  If he was not preoccupied he might wonder who opened the gates.

There is one store, though, whose gates are still closed but polished clean.  He curls his fingers around the metal, and it is rougher than it appears, as if it has rusted silver.  He might have imagined it, but - “Would you mind doing me an awful big favor, dear, and opening this gate?  It’s gone and closed on me again.”

He frowns, licks his lips, wincing as he remembers how they sting.  He bites down on the lower one and answers, “You can open it from the outside?”

The voice returning seems almost as surprised to hear his question as he was to hear hers (it must be a her).  “Well, it certainly won’t open from the inside.”  He can barely hear her last few words, though maybe only because he bends down to grab under the lowest bar.  It opens as if just oiled.

“Not good for robbers, you know.  Thieves and - the like.”  He does not know whether to close the gate upon entering, but stops when he sees what is inside - “Ah.”

“Nobody’s going to steal what I sell here, dear,” the voice says, and now it has a body.  His mind may be static from sleep, but he can see that her eyes are the same hard gray as the girl’s who sold him his ticket.

“Oh, that’s not true…that’s…I’ll take this one,” he says, his voice low.  His smile, it’s thick enough to hear.  She doesn’t say anything, just wraps up his choice in newspaper and hands it over.  “I don’t charge,” she says.  "I never charge," she says.  "Nobody buys this anyway," she says.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.