An awning stretches above the doors to the bus terminal, blocking the sun but doing nothing to stop the sweltering heat. It’s a struggle to breathe, the hot air trapped and unmoving.
Someone bumps my shoulder and I turn, tightening my hold on my backpack. But it’s someone in a hurry who doesn’t even stop. No one here knows who I am--I remind myself of this as my breath calms. I’m not breaking a law by being here. I’ve been “asked” to remain in Phoenix. I’ve been “cautioned” and “advised” and “strongly encouraged.”
My new hiking boots take me into the bus terminal. They’re Salomons and not new at all. I bought them at Goodwill this morning. I would have been squeamish before--used shoes? Please. But now I congratulate myself on my ten-dollar find. The fitted black tee and dark green pants are my own--bought for a trip to Paris and made of breathable, movable fabric with pockets down the leg. I’m a long way from Paris, but they’ll do. A white hooded jacket with wind protection is in the pack. It can get cold where I’m going, even in August.
The bus terminal is nicer than I expected. Clean and well lit. There are black mesh benches that run in a line down the center of the airy space where people are sitting, bags under their legs, and kids lying on their moms’ laps. It’s noisy the way it is at the airport--a wave of sound that conveys nothing but carries you along. The kind of noise you can disappear into.
Rhodeways Bus Company flashes from a huge neon sign. Departure times are listed on a blue screen below. Mine flickers near the bottom. departure: 3:05 p.m.
I adjust the hat lower over my forehead. It’s a seafoam-green ball cap with Mickey Mouse on the brim. I bought it on a birthday trip with Cecily two years ago. We were being idiots, wearing our mouse ears everywhere and waiting an hour for pictures with Tigger. The trip was a surprise from Mom--everything taken care of, including this hat. I am a thief in this hat. One more reminder, not that I need it.
If only my memories could be sold off like everything else.
I move through the main floor, hoping to outdistance my thoughts. My bus will be leaving from the north end of the terminal and I head for the far bank of ticket windows. Out of habit, I scan the crowd, but no one recognizes me. I hardly recognize myself.
Grace Marie Pierce.
Even the name sounds like someone I used to know. A Golden Girl. The cherished face of the Family Fund and pure embodiment of the American dream: money, security, hope. A face that, in the past three months, has been spat on, slapped, and even one night, hit with a raw egg.
I fall into line at the first ticket window and take one more look around. The people who travel here do not travel in my world. There’s a group of rowdy guys--most of them in ASU tees--tossing a Nerf football. A family is crowded on the far bench, the mother passing out sandwiches wrapped in baggies like my mom used to do. A figure in a blue hoodie and faded jeans is slouched against the wall. As I look, he turns away, the fabric of his hood completely blocking his face. I remind myself I’m not the only one with a reason to hide.
Maybe that man is looking for answers, too. Maybe he’ll find what he wants at the end of his bus trip and maybe so will I. It’s possible. Anything is possible. I shuffle forward.
Am I really allowing myself to hope? Am I really that stupid?
Then it’s my turn. I speak into the grate at the bottom of the window. “One ticket to Ridgway, Colorado.”
A man with tired eyes and sloped shoulders nods. “Round trip?”
I hesitate. I have to swallow before I can get the words out. “One way.” I slide $187 in cash through the window.
Some things you don’t come back from.