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Eye of the Beholder

I wake up to the candy soap smell of the bus wash. I’ve fallen asleep in the back of the bus again. I promised my dad I’d wait. Right here. The bus jerks through the dark tunnel and then pauses at the end. Hot water streams down the fogged windows.

All week, the bus has been on an erratic schedule. I think it’s the new driver. From her dopey smile, I could tell she didn’t know where she was going. Sometimes the bus stopped, sometimes it didn’t. I think that’s how he was left behind.

Yesterday, I parceled my lunch: a Moon Pie, half of a tuna sandwich and a bruised apple, thinking that by the last stop, he’d show up and take me home. Or take me out to eat. So I hadn’t thought twice about scarfing down the apple. (The baby had wanted dessert first. The tuna sandwich went to street corner Willie for playing my favorite guitar song.)

My gut gnaws with hunger. I glance at the driver’s seat. Empty. Guess she’s on break or something. Or maybe she went home. The bus is warm, so I tuck myself into an ball and try to go back to sleep.

The sound of the bus wash reminds me of a summer rainstorm, like the one my dad and I danced in when I was little. That was the first time he worried about my beauty. Told me I had to keep it hidden. Boys would want it for themselves. I was his and his alone.

When the driver returns, she doesn’t check the seats. Instead she tosses a white paper sack next to her seat and plops down, shaking the entire bus. She doesn’t even look in her mirror until she passes by two depots with people waiting in the rain.

I want to take over the wheel. What kind of a bus driver didn’t stop at all the depots? What if my dad was waiting there?

She’s a renegade. And I’m hiding in plain sight with a hoodie over my head. It’s just a fluke that it happens to be the same dingy green as the bus seats.

The driver finally glances in her mirror. She says, “You again?” She shoves an egg biscuit sandwich into her round mouth.

I gulp. She has noticed me. I nod.

She shakes her head. “Can’t hide you forever.”

I nod again. The scent of her coffee wafts and lingers. I clutch my stomach to stop the growl. The baby kicks my rib.

She waves for me to move closer. “You got a name, boy?”

All of my dad’s training has worked. She’s fooled. I pull back the hoodie to reveal my long braided hair. I unzip it to reveal my bumps. “I’m waiting for someone.”

She snorts. “Girl, whoever he is, he ain’t coming.” She widens her eyes. The whites of her eyes are yellow.

My dad’s a good man who always keeps me safe. This bus, for example, had kept me off the streets in the middle of the night. Away from those terrible boys. “How do you know?”

“You can’t count on a man.” She wipes crumbs off her mouth with her napkin. “I’ve been there before.”

I sit on the seat closest to her and wish for coffee. My mouth is cottony and sour.

The driver turns the steering wheel in a wide circle, jutting her elbows. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“No school today.” She knows nothing. I haven’t been to school since the fifth grade. My dad’s teaching me real life skills. I don’t need books, schedules or boys. All I need is him.

The bus rumbles under an overpass. When she stops at an empty depot, she glances over. “You eaten anything?”

“An apple.” Yesterday, I want to say. But it sounds pitiful. I was taught to be proud.

“Need a bathroom?”

It was like she read my mind. “Yes.”

“Get off here.” She leans toward the aisle. “Go see Mick. He’ll set you up.” She pulls the lever to open the doors.

“Where’s that?” The street is full of greasy puddles and old parked cars. When the bus door opens, the humid air reeks of stinky cheese.

“At the shelter.” She points to a long brick building that looks like it had been a factory in better days. “Through that blue door.”

“What if he comes?” My dad would never abandon his beauty. He was busy looking for another job. It was just a matter of time and we’d be in our own place with a door and a soft bed. His advice guides me, even now. I zip the hoodie and yank it over my head. No bumps. No braids.

She grabs her clipboard and pen attached with a string. She pinches the cap between her teeth and tugs the pen free. “Tell me your name and I’ll tell him where you are.”

“I can’t remember.” Which is sort of true. If you were left on a bus for two days would you want to remember your own name?

“Right.” She scrunches her lips into a pucker. “I’ll pick you back up if I find him.”

I search her eyes for understanding. “But you didn’t even ask what he looks like.”

“Willa Dew, you get to eat today. Can’t promise you it’s good. But it’s a start.” She shoves her hand into her too tight pants and pulls out three damp dollar bills. “Here.”

I accept the money. Tears blur my eyes. He’s not coming. I have to admit it to get my legs to move.

“Bonita,” I whisper. Inside my head, I scream at my stupid legs to move.

She adjusts her lap belt. “What’d you say?”

“My name’s Bonita.” I consider using Willa Dew though. Then he’d never find me. Maybe then, I could find a little place of my own. Just for me and the baby. Maybe then, I could get a job and finish school.

Exhaust belts from under the bus, clouding my view.

The bus driver checks her watch and says, “Bonita. That’s Spanish for something, isn’t it?”


Stacy Post, a native Hoosier, resides in the flatlands with her husband and three children. A Pushcart Prize nominee for short fiction, her stories have appeared in One Forty Fiction, Referential Magazine, Rose & Thorn Journal, WOW! Women on Writing and Every Day Fiction.


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