by Daniel Gee Husson
Part Two, Double Decker
The man climbed the stairs and slid into the very last row of the bus. This is a better view than the last time, he thought. The last time the man had ridden a bus, he sat up front. The countryside, green and brown, bespeckled with sheep and cows, had lolled him to boredom. It was also too hard to follow people the right way when they were all sitting behind.
Now, sitting in the very last row on the right, tucked in his corner, stable against the jolts and lurches and sways of the bus—orchestrated on purpose, the man knew, by the balding, pock-marked driver—he waited.
The man watched the backs of people’s heads while he waited. Sometimes an ear would emerge or a cheek, lips, nose, if the conversation were engaging. Mostly, the man watched back-of-head silence.
The bus rolled to a stop and a group of four shuffled to the stairs and disappeared. Good riddance, the man thought, not so much as the lobe of an ear to hold my attention.
A scuffling of a man ascended the stairs. First announced by his left hand holding a gnarled sandwich half-wrapped in tin foil, this large man squeezed himself into the aisle. There he stood, looking stunned, as the bus choked forward.
Finally, the man thought, something interesting to follow. He watched the large man pick the row in front of him.
“Got the time,” the large man asked between bites of his sandwich.
“Half two,” the man said.
“Half to what?
“Two thirty,” said the man, feigning disinterest.
The large man grunted something akin to “thanks” and settled sideways in the seat, back to the window, legs dangling in the aisle. The way this large man ate reminded the man of a roommate he once had long ago. A roommate the man refused to have breakfast with because if you ate breakfast with this roommate, this roommate would always eat runny eggs. Runny eggs and roommates weren’t always a problem, but this roommate had been unaware of the state of his face with yolk dripping from it.
So, the man thought, it seemed with the large man.
A bit of fish, or turkey, or roast beef—it was hard to tell—stuck in the corner of the large man’s mouth with a little string of spit. Twisted in his moustache were sesame seeds, no doubt from the bun of a bacon double cheeseburger eaten earlier, the man thought. The large man’s lips were chapped from chewing. He chewed with his mouth open, parading his meal and yellow-brown teeth for anyone who cared to pay attention.
The man, safely in his corner in the last row of the bus, sat in hushed attention as the large man chewed. This, the man thought, was a person worthy of a good follow. The man wondered where this thing lived, what kind job (if any) could a man of this size hold, did he have friends, and, most importantly, when the large man was alone at night, what did he do when he thought no one else was looking.
Somewhere between bus stops the large man finished his sandwich. Oddly unscathed was the crust, which the large man crumpled up in the tin foil and stuffed in his left pocket as he hoisted himself to his feet. As he teetered, the large man grabbed the cord by the ceiling to request the next stop. As he did, the bus came to a jerky halt, propelling the large man forward and bringing his full weight against the tiny cord. It snapped and he fell face first. With no time to catch his fall, hands and arms flailing, the large man met the cold metal of the floor head-on. The sound, bystanders would report, was like an over-ripe melon being struck by a plank of wood.
There the large man lay, motionless, as the bus heaved forward. The passengers at the front of the bus stared in shock.
There was nothing to do, the man thought. This large man may or may not be dead, but the man couldn’t wait around to find out. As the bus slowed to the next stop, he nearly had to jump over the large man in the aisle to get to the stairs, to get him off the bus and away.
The man skipped down the road, trailing a quarter-bloody footprint.