I can’t believe I’m lost. How does that even happen in this day and age? I’m tired of stumbling around empty, unfamiliar streets. I just want to go home. As far as I can tell I’m no closer to that goal than I was when I started this adventure. I don’t even know what time it is. I check my phone again, unsure of how I expect the battery to have magically charged itself in the last few minutes but I yearn for something familiar.
Everything was fine until we got out of the concert. James started messing with some strung out freak making an ass of himself by the exit. No sense of fear that guy. We’re in a strange town, on our own, and he decides to piss somebody off without backup or any sense of who this idiot is or who his friends are. Well, we met his friends soon enough, didn’t we?
We got separated as we ran from the pack of crazies. James went one way, Derrick and I went another. Somewhere along the way Derrick must have ducked down an alley or something. All I know is by the time I felt safe enough to slow down he was gone. Now I’m wandering around trying my best to find a way out of here.
I’ve never seen anything like this place outside of the evening news. Whole buildings boarded up, garbage and abandoned cars everywhere. Half the street lights are burnt out or broken. Every shadow is filled with menace. Even the cops seem to avoid this place. I try to keep my head down but I know I stick out like a sore thumb.
I turn a corner and see a group of people hanging out on a stoop up ahead. I stop dead in my tracks. They’re eyeing me up like dinner is about to be served. I’m about to turn back when the winding down of a tired diesel engine catches my attention.
Pulling up to a red light just behind me is an old city bus. A thick layer of dust and road grime covers dents and peeling paint, but the “In Service” sign is still lit atop the windshield so I take a chance and run for it. I bang on the doors, praying the driver will let me in. They part with a metallic whine and without a second thought I scramble up the steps.
I dig through my pockets and drop a random handful of coins into the collection machine. The driver doesn’t look away from the road ahead of him as I make my way past. I grab a seat near the front as the red glare through the windshield turns to green and the bus accelerates through the intersection.
My relief at finding a way out of my predicament fades as I look around the passenger compartment. Fluorescent lights flicker as the bus rocks through the potholes and uneven pavement of the winding inner city streets. The maps pasted to the walls are unreadable from fading and graphitti. The seats are stained and uncomfortable. It’s unusually cold and dirty. There’s an odd smell that I can’t place, but it turns my stomach. There are only a few other passengers aboard, none willing to get too close to each other.
An old man is sitting on the sideways facing bench behind the driver. He’s wearing multiple layers of clothing, all seem to be dirty and frayed. He keeps muttering under his breath, shaking his head gently back and forth while he stares at the floor. Every so often he looks toward the back of the bus, then crosses himself and shouts “spectacles, testacles, wallet, and watch!” Nobody else seems to notice.
Three seats behind me is a young couple. They have the look and feel of a life lived on the streets. They are deep in each other’s embrace. They keep their heads low and if they speak it is in whispered tones. The boy’s eyes dart back and forth to the other passengers, as if he’s watching for some unseen menace. Our eyes lock for a brief moment and I sense his fear.
Half way down on the driver’s side is a middle aged man. Strands of greasy blonde hair hang down to his shoulders. It looks like it’s been at least four days since he’s seen a razor. His jean jacket is tattered and worn through at the elbows. A dirty brown work boot stick out in to the aisle, the steel toe cap shining beneath shredded leather. His head bobs in between bouts of quiet snoring.
Across from the rear door is a woman sitting sideways on her seat. At least I think it’s a woman, the muscular splayed legs and hint of an Adam’s apple make me second guess myself. She’s wearing a black pea coat over a very blue and very short sequined dress. A pair of high heels in a similar shade lay under the seat in front of her. Her face is buried in a cell phone. Save for the quick motions of her thumbs on the screen she does not move or betray any emotion.
Sitting in the middle of the large rear seat at the very back is an old woman, clutching an over-sized purse on her lap and staring straight up the aisle with a crazed smile on her face. The bright floral print on her dress seems out of place here. Her silver curly hair is cropped short and surrounds a thin face with diminutive features. Her beige orthopedic shoes dangle just above the worn rubber mat of the floor. When she notices me watching her, the old woman’s smile widens and she nods in my direction.
The bus travels four or five blocks before it stops again. It veers to the curb and comes to an abrupt halt alongside a convenience store with heavy metal grates covering the door and all of the windows. The old man, still muttering to himself, stands to leave. He makes his way to the door while watching down the aisle out of the corner of his eye. As the doors close he begins pointing and screaming in my direction. He pulls at his filthy hair and jumps up and down in frustration. The commotion is lost to the howl of the bus as it pulls away. I don’t understand any of it but it makes me uneasy.
As the bus reaches speed and the clatter of the engine eases I look back to see the old woman now sitting where the blue dress used to be. She’s staring at me and smiling in a contented way. I don’t want to show too much interest so I turn to face forward as nonchalantly as possible. I assume the dress got off at the last stop while I was distracted by the crazy guy. Something in the back of my mind is telling me I’m wrong though.
I’m really not feeling good now. My head is fuzzy. It’s hard to focus. I don’t see any movement on the broken and cracked sidewalks outside. There are no street signs to show me were we might be or where we are going. The bus driver, faceless in the reflection of the front windscreen, simply goes through the motions as he has a thousand nights before.
I hear someone whistling an unusual tune somewhere behind me. The old woman has moved up towards the middle of the bus. Her purse sits open beside her by the edge of the seat. Her orthopedic shoes are planted firmly on the floor and her knees are close together as she focuses her attention directly in front of her. She’s mending a jean jacket with a large hooked needle. But it’s not a needle really. It is a warm white colour and has a rawness to it that makes me uncomfortable. The spun thread glistens as her hand moves up and down in rhythmic, fluid motions. It’s the same dirty blonde as the man whose seat she has taken. She’s patching the elbows of the jacket with scraps of light coloured material. Something like leather, but not. The old woman seems different somehow, still the smile is the same.
I fight to remain conscious as the bus rolls on. I fumble for my phone, but it drops to the floor in front of me. I make no attempt to retrieve it, I’m afraid I’ll pass out if I bend down. I see the out of service sign flip over in the reflection on the front windshield and I know the bus will not stop again. I make a move to stand, maybe to confront the driver, or to find a way out, but my limbs go numb as the unusual smell envelops and overpowers me.
I turned to see the old woman three seats behind me. She’s licking something glossy and red from her fingers, savouring it. Her face is bloated, her skin a sickening yellow colour and covered in perspiration. The wide curls of her silver hair are wild and seem to move as if alive. Her floral print dress is dark and stained; it is stretched to its limits by the bulging form underneath. I gaze into her eyes. They are black, deep and glossy in the dim light. They seem endless. She smiles at me with pointed, white teeth. “Hello luv,” she says, “don’t you look delicious.”