How long will it be, I asked mother. I was standing beside her and I had the three tickets in my hand. Her hand was on my shoulder and just her touch alone made me feel better. My brother kicked a rock that was on the ground and looked around for another one. Mother told him to stop because he was dirtying up his shoes.
Four hours, she said to me.
Four hours, I said back to her, but I don’t want to go in there.
This is was the fourth or fifth time I said that and mother had enough, she did what she always did when she was frustrated.
Remember what your father said, be a big boy now.
Four hours, I repeated back more to myself than to anyone else.
I leaned closer to my brother, my mother’s hand left my shoulder as I did that.
Are you nervous? I asked him softly so that only he heard me.
He was staring at the side of the bus, reading the advertisement for Pepsi that was painted on it.
I poked him from behind to get his attention and he swung his arm around, striking my hand away.
Mother told us to stop.
The bus doors opened in a mechanical fashion as if it were just going through the motions and made a yawing sound, tired of working. The conductor, who wore a buttoned up shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbow, stepped down from the bus. The other people quickly formed a line and the three of us fell into place. I stayed close to mother, sheltered by her hip. My brother led the three of us and I felt as if I should be like that too. I edged my way by my brother’s side.
You think it’ll be fun, I asked him.
Mama said they play a movie now. What movie do you think it’ll be?
Probably some boring one.
You think so?
He didn’t reply. He was older than me by three years and this was his first time too. I wanted to ask him if he was nervous again but I didn’t. He was like me but he was older so I followed him.
We stopped in front of the conductor. He put his hand out for the tickets and mother grabbed them from my hand and gave it to the man. He looked at them for a second and then nodded, handing the tickets back and motioning us through.
We followed my brother in.
Go to the back, mother said.
The school bus I took I usually sat in the front because you could get out quickly when you got to the school. The first five rows were double seated most of them were already taken by adults. All the seats were painted blue and you could see the white plastic underneath the peeling paint every now and then. There was a red and black cushion set atop the seats and particles of dust shot in the air when one sat down on it. The seats in the back of this bus were wider. They seated three at a time and the last row could seat ten people.
I asked my brother how many could sit at the way back and he said probably ten but I knew twelve could fit if they wanted to.
My brother stopped at the first set of three seaters and didn’t look over at mother to see if it was okay. He began to scout inside, going to the window seat.
I quickly turned to mother, you said I could have the window seat.
Does it matter, she asked.
You said I could have it.
She let out a deep breath. Let your brother have the window seat, she said in a tired voice.
My brother looked to protest but before he could mother raised her hand and I knew I had won. He threw himself onto the middle seat.
As I walked by him he stuck out his leg and tried to trip me but I knew that was coming and I stepped over it. I smiled at him, letting him know I won. When I sat down he leaned over and pinched me under my arm where mother couldn’t see. I cried out to her but she ignored the two of us. It was a daily or more accurately an hourly occurrence between the two of us.
I looked out of the window, rubbing my arm where my brother had pinched me. It was like a school bus, I told myself. I had been in plenty of those. Every morning at eight I waited for the bus outside my house along with my brother. I rode the same bus back in the afternoon. So twice a day…for…I tried to count how many times I had ridden the bus in the past five years but I ended up settling on a lot. I’ve been in a lot of them. The door closed and the bus started, jerking us all back and the uncomfortable cotton covered seats already were making me sweat. The windows only cracked slightly at the top, just enough for the heat to escape but not enough for the cool wind to come in.
Mother was right however, there was a television at the top corner of the bus, straight ahead. When it came alive it played some bootleg movie that was still in theatres. One could still see the silhouettes of the heads of the people in the movie theatre watching the movie and occasional a shadow stood up and sat down. My brother was right too. It was boring.
How much longer, I asked my mother.
Almost halfway done.
So two more hours?
More or less.
My brother was asleep. His head tilted back, his mouth slightly open, arms crossed over his chest. I suppressed my laughter. I looked out of the window again. So far the bus ride had been uneventful. Apart from the occasional fit of cough from one of the older people on the bus, there had been the usual sound of the movie playing and people snoring. I had played my game most of the ride. The game was simple. Whenever the bus got near the shadow of the trees I would unclench my teeth and imagine the bus jumping over the shadow and when we were past the shadow I would clench my teeth again which meant that the bus came back down on the road. Then, once more I waited for the next opportunity to jump. I always played this game on the school bus.
The bus was slowing down. I asked mother what was happening. She told me not to worry. The bus came to a stop at the side of the road.
Mother asked If I needed to use the bathroom and I shook my head. I did need to go but for some reason, I felt as if I left the bus it might leave me and I would be left alone on the side of the road. Such a thought came after, once mother had left along with more than half the bus. I stood up and leaned over my brother to see where everyone was going. There was a restaurant on the other side of the road.
My brother woke up and he elbowed me in the chest and told me to get off of him. I sat down rubbing my chest. He saw that mother was not here.
I told him not to worry, mama will be right back. She just went outside.
He stood up to leave as well.
I called his name and told him to sit down. Mama said to stay here and not to move.
I sat alone gripping the metal railing in front of me, trying to look outside the window to see where my brother was going. I saw him get out and he disappeared from my view. I wanted to go after him but mother said to stay put. I wanted to go find mother and let her know that he left and that we should find him because what if the bus left without him. It wouldn’t, it wouldn’t leave. It might leave. It might leave now, without him and without mother. It could. I would be alone then. Alone in the seat. Where were they? Some of the people had returned and took their seats. Where were they? The conductor came back and I wanted to go up and tell him not to leave. He was talking to the bus driver. Mother said not to leave the seat so I stayed put. I kept an eye on the driver, watching his hands to make sure he didn’t put them on the wheel. I felt as if with my thoughts alone I could stop the bus from going. More people came back. It looked as if everyone was back. I saw the conductor looking, counting the people. I tried to draw attention to the two empty seats beside me. I felt like going to the bathroom right there. The feeling reaching deep inside of me and the thought of it made my ears burn and I wished the windows would open some more. I stayed rooted to my seat. My foot on top of my other foot and both my hands on the railing now, looking at the driver.
He turned the bus on. I felt my body shaking but didn’t know if that was from the inside or from the motor of the bus. I thought harder hoping it was enough.
An older man came up the steps and the conductor helped him. Behind him was my mother and I stopped shaking. Behind her was my brother, drinking from a juice box, holding a bag of chips in his other hand and I sat back, letting go of the railing. I looked out of the window as if I had been doing so the entire time.
Mother came and sat in the middle seat. She opened up her purse and took out a juice box for me and she was smiling. She always brought the same juice box for me. She knew it was my favorite. I took it without giving away what had just been in my head. She also set a bag of chips on my lap and then leaned back in her chair, watching the movie as the bus got back on the road.
I tried not to think about the thoughts I just had but they kept creeping back into my mind like thoughts always did, especially the bad kind, the kind which kept imagining what will happen at night if the closet door is left open, I wanted to stop thinking and thinking about that made my ears burn again for I felt embarrassed by these thoughts. I was older now. I should be more like my brother. Like my father said.
There was a thin layer of sweat on my mother’s forehead as she leaned back into her chair and closed her eyes. My brother watched the television screen, gently rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the moving vehicle. I had finished my food and washed it down with the juice box. I placed my head against the cool window and watched my breath fog onto the glass. Outside a truck rushed past us, almost grazing the side of the bus and I felt it was a good thing the windows didn’t open all the way.
When I woke up it took me a moment to realize the silence that lay inside the bus. It was almost crushing if anyone spoke it would bring it crashing down upon us and I knew this instinctually for when I awoke I grabbed my mothers arm and asked her with my eyes what happened and she slowly shook her head.
We were no longer moving. My brother was gripping the metal railing in front of him with one hand. Outside the only thing that was still unconcerned were the leaves of the trees. They kept going with the gentle wind. The uneasiness inside the bus made me want to move around. I felt the same whenever I took a test at school. The quietness of classrooms always made me more nervous as if everyone could hear or sense the little boy in me. I wasn’t a little boy anymore, I reminded myself.
I heard then the squeaking of metal chain. In the quietness it spoke loudly, otherwise, it would have gone unheard. An older man rode his bicycle down the side of the road. He was hovering slightly above his seat and he was not looking ahead of him but rather at the inch of concrete directly in front of the rubber tires. I still remember those unblinking eyes. He disappeared.
The bus door opened. A family of three walked up the steps and the conductor did not bother checking their tickets. In fact, he looked to be frozen in his chair. The family stood still for a second at the front of the bus, like new school children waiting to be told where to sit by the teacher. The father’s face resembled the color of his white shirt which was neatly tucked into his trousers except for this one part at his hip which was coming out as if he had been leaning to the other side for too long. The mother was holding the daughter’s hand and she was looking straight ahead but not looking. My mother put an arm around my shoulders. The daughter wore a pretty blue dress and her hair was done in the style of a ponytail which was held together was a butterfly pin. The mother held the daughter tightly. Both her hands were gripping the daughter’s shoulders as if she let go, the little girl will float away like some ballon you buy at a fair. I noticed then the tears from the mother’s eyes. Even they fell in silence. The father put his hand on his wives back and motioned her to go to the backseat. The three of them were in unison as they walked down the aisle, heads turned to watch them from the back. When they passed us my brother stared at the ground and so did I. My mother kept her arm around me. There was something haunting about them. It was as if we feared to look at them because whatever haunted them could haunt us too.
People made room for them in the back. Giving them plenty of room as if they were also aware of the haunting thing that accompanied them. The mother sat in the corner and then the daughter and the father beside her. The father leaned in towards his daughter and wife and kept a tight hold onto them. I could see the part of his shirt that was undone.
The bus jolted in motion. The television started once more but the conductor turned the sound down. Peoples heads turned towards the windows as we went past the scene. First, the back end of the bus came in view and soon after, too soon, the front. The bus had been compressed as if its inside had been taken apart, accordion-like it stood, with its shattered glass sparkling on the ground, it looked so pretty, the sun glinting off the glass, fallen stars. Where the front of the bus ended, the front of the truck started and my mother made me look away.
I looked back and I saw them too. The white cloths covering something on the side of the road. So many white cloths covering the same thing I was. Those people were, but I was, and am still. The family was still but they were not anymore. I was and I felt a part of me was not for whatever haunted the family had come onto me, at least a small part of it was in me. The cloth peacefully fluttered with the wind and above them, the leaves of the trees still moved, unconcerned and above it, the sun was shining. So bright. So wonderfully. I was older than.