“So then you got off the bus at ten-oh-five and you’ve been sitting here ever since?”
“That’s right,” she confirmed. “I’ve been right here since then.”
I checked my watch. It read just past two-in-the-morning. I’d been out for a late-night drive to clear my head. Lately, I’ve been waking up every night at one-thirty on the dot, for no apparent reason. It isn’t as if I’d had a bad dream or felt the urge to urinate. Nothing like that. Just every night for the past two weeks at one-thirty, there’s this brilliant burst of light and my eyes snap open as if orchestrated by an ant-sized conductor dwelling inside my brain, and I’m wide awake.
On this particular night, I felt an invisible string reeling me towards my car and I just knew I had to go for a drive. You can’t ignore those types of compulsions, or at least I can’t. So I got in my car with no direction in mind and drove. I was passing the 7-Eleven by the local bus stop when I spotted her.
She was sitting there reservedly, her face tilted slightly upward as if watching for the rain to fall. Tonight was especially clear though; no signs of rain. The last bus had stopped hours ago, and the next bus wouldn’t arrive until dawn, that much I knew. I’m not really partial to public transport, which is why I bought myself a car as soon as I’d had enough money saved up. It was my one adult accomplishment in a sea of failures.
I parked at the 7-Eleven, a harmless distance close enough to observe what she was doing. I kept my engine running as I watched her. She showed no indication that she’d even noticed my vehicle, her face tilted up in the same expectant angle. The bus stop wasn’t lit at all, but from the bright glow of the 7, I could make out that she was wearing a simple summer dress with a long-sleeved cardigan and sandals. Her hair, long and braided down her right side into a thick, sturdy rope. Her face, illuminated by a combination of neon lights and natural moonlight, revealed a clear complexion. I sucked in my breath; she was so beautiful and pensive.
A curiosity overwhelmed me; I had to know what she was waiting for. I quietly pulled out of the parking lot and up beside the curb in front of the bus stop. At this hour I was in no danger of blocking any traffic.
She spoke again after a lengthy pause, “The bus that I’m waiting for, I don’t think it’s ever going to come.”
“Wouldn’t you just be waiting for one to pick you up and take you back in the direction you came from?” I asked.
She shook her head, “It’s not that easy. You see, I’m not really sure where it is I come from anymore, so it’d be hard to go back to a place that isn’t there.”
“Then why even wait,” I challenged.
“Because what else is there to do?,” her question a rhetorical one.
I had to agree with her there. But her situation was a most unusual one. I’d never met anyone who didn’t know where they came from. I let these thoughts sink in. Neither of us seemed in any rush to go anywhere. Traffic lights signaled loyally to no one in particular. Green to yellow to red, and then again. Go, slow down, stop. But not a single car passed by. I stared, fixated, as her slender fingers tugged lightly at the edge of her dress, as if she was trying to hold herself to this place. A pack of dogs howled in the distance. Green, yellow, red. The night went on around us.
At first she didn’t acknowledge my presence. In fact, she didn’t flinch a single muscle when I sat beside her. I exhaled forcefully to see the vapor of my breath materialize against the cold air to convince myself that I still existed. I cleared my throat, unsure of what to say now that my curiosity had taken me this far.
“I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing here,” she started so that I didn’t have to, face still gazing upward. Her voice had a very smooth, poetic sound to it. I already knew it didn’t matter what the next words out of her mouth would be, I would be hanging on to every one of them, savoring the sweetness in which she spoke.
“I’m waiting,” she went on and then paused as if expecting a reply.
“Oh,” I answered lamely, “I see.” I was so entranced by every particle of her being, I didn’t have many coherent thoughts left to express.
She finally turned her head toward me, perhaps just as disappointed in my reply as I was. Her eyes locked onto mine and an explosion of light, not unlike the one in my recent dreams, seared my retinas, startling me out of my stupor. It was almost as if lightning had striked between us. Before I could ask if she’d seen it too, she looked away again and continued as if uninterrupted, “It’s because I woke up late this morning,” she began. The entire story of how she came to be, here at this particular bus stop, unfolded before me, and I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise, not that I would’ve had anything of value to contribute anyway. I listened intently, blinking several times to ensure my vision was still intact after that unusual flash.
She was an extremely punctual sort of person. The kind of kid who got perfect attendance all through grade school. She never even had to set an alarm, she told me. She always woke up right on time, like clockwork. Except today. For some reason or other, her internal clock was on the blink and she awoke a half hour later than usual, which set her entire morning routine a half hour back. She wasn’t one to rush things as she liked to do things just the right amount of time it took to do them. 35 seconds to make her bed, 2 minutes to brush her teeth, 15 to eat breakfast, and so on. No more, no less. She liked her life with a certain order to it, and waking up a half hour late was not going to disturb that order.
She didn’t look any different, at least not on the surface, she thought as she looked into the oval mirror hanging above her dresser. “But something in me had changed,” she said matter-of-factly. “I was looking at myself in the mirror, the me that everyone else sees, but it wasn’t really me. Do you know what I mean?”
“I suppose it’s kind of like an out-of-body experience, watching yourself from a third-person perspective, right?”
“Not quite,” she disagreed, “I wasn’t out of my body at all. I was right there in it the whole time, seeing myself from a different perspective. Only it didn’t feel like my body. I’d never seen myself like that before. It was like meeting my identical twin for the first time, except I didn’t just know what her body looked like, I knew all of her thoughts too,” she tried explaining. I nodded even though I still couldn’t quite grasp what she was telling me. I don’t have an identical twin and I couldn’t very well imagine one.
After she’d completed her morning routine, she gathered up her cardigan and bag and made the 27-minute walk down to the bus stop. Normally, she rather enjoys the walk, pops in her earphones and listens to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album. “Blue In Green” being her favorite track, regardless of how the music gets shuffled, she always makes sure to play that particular song when she’s 6 minutes away from the bus stop. That gives her time to enjoy the entire jazz number with 62 seconds leftover to wrap up her earphones, stuff them away in her bag, and take a seat until her bus arrives, so I’m told. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t impressed by the precision in which she lives her life. She doesn’t like to listen to music while waiting for the bus, she says it distracts her from people-watching.
She usually takes the number 12 bus to work, but since she was late, she ended up having to take the 21, which the driver promised goes in the same direction. She paid the bus toll and sat down without another word. “It was somewhere between Palm and Pacific when it happened,” she recalled. The bus was speeding through an intersection and just as it passed beneath the traffic light, she saw the air in front of her wrinkle. She explained that the wrinkle resembled the steam of heat waves rising off of hot pavement, only much more distinct. She reached out to try and touch this visible wrinkle just as the bus hit a deep pothole, lunging her body right through the wrinkle and right back down into her seat.
“I didn’t feel like much. It didn’t feel like anything at all. And no one else had acknowledged its appearance so I thought I’d imagined it,” she rationalized. “After all, no else on the bus seemed to notice that anything had happened.” The wrinkle was gone just as quickly as it’d appeared. She didn’t feel different, not at first. But then, as her stop was approaching, she found that she couldn’t will her body to get up and disembark. There was nothing physically wrong with any of her limbs, her body just refused to do what her mind wanted. She was unexplainably magnetized to the seat. So she sat.
“That’s when the waiting began,” she added. “Right on the bus.”
It wasn’t until she’d reached the end of the line that her body finally cooperated and allowed her off the bus. Here, at this stop. The way she described it, she felt as if she’d been jolted into some sort of time warp, but because it had been so sudden and so fleeting, she never completely passed through and instead, had lost a part of herself in the process.
“I’m never going back,” she acknowledged with a surprising amount of composure. “But it’s okay. I don’t think I’ll be here much longer.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, “Like you think you’re going to die?”
“No, nothing like that. I just won’t be anymore.”
I was puzzled, but something inside me decided to accept everything she’d revealed to me. For some incomprehensible reason, I trusted her. “Hey, why don’t you stay at my place tonight?” I offered, “It’s getting colder out here. You can continue waiting in the morning, if that’s what you want.”
She smiled serenely at me, the corners of her lips seemed to hold a secret. “Sure,” was all she replied. Under the full moon her skin seemed even paler than before. It must’ve been the cold.
“Leave the lights off, please,” she requested as I pushed open the door to my apartment. I’d forgotten to lock it in my haste to go for a drive.
“Um…okay,” I conceded despite the odd request. I couldn’t refuse the melody in her voice, but I couldn’t help but notice her change in tone.
“It’s nothing big. I just want to savor this night,” she explained, answering my unasked question. I understood and nodded to indicate so. The moonlight streamed gracefully through my three floor-length living room windows, inviting us to sit on the couch. I offered her a seat and asked if she’d like something to drink.
“No thank you,” she declined, all the while firmly grasping the edge of the couch cushions with both hands. “What’s your name?” she asked me gently.
“You can just call me M, all my friends do,” I told her. “You never told me your name either,” I pointed out.
“That isn’t important,” she brushed the thought aside. “I wonder M, if you wouldn’t mind just sitting here with me, and holding onto me?” she asked. I sat beside her so close that our bare knees were touching. I took her hand in mind and clasped it tightly. “Like this?” I asked her. Her hand still carried the cold of outside in her fingertips.
“Yeah, just like that,” she replied, looking right at me. I swear I saw a flicker of light dim in her eyes as she continued to gaze at me searchingly. I was suddenly suspended in that moment. I forced my eyes shut and felt her lips press softly against mine. I stopped breathing momentarily. I had an overwhelming urge to hold onto her forever. When I opened my eyes again I caught a glimpse of her waning smile. Sitting up seemed to be making her tired so I lied down with her and held her close. Her skin was still cold against mine. I breathed in the scent of her hair and sleep came to me deeply, burying me leagues beneath the dream world’s undertow.
When I woke in the morning, she was gone. I didn’t bother searching my apartment. I knew she had simply ceased to be. The only evidence of her presence already fading into a memory, tucked away into my mind’s recesses. That night, the brilliant burst of light had vanished too.