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Mandela On The 308

By @Val

I boarded a train at midday. That seemed as good a place to begin as any, but I knew nothing about trains. So, I boarded a bus at midday instead. I knew little about busses, but I decided that this little was a little more than the nothing I knew about trains.

I boarded a bus at midday – a crowded, uncomfortable bus, as all were at midday. That was the little I knew. The rest I made up. 

It was a made up street called Branston Street where I boarded this crowded, uncomfortable bus – the bus of which I made up. It was better than a train, I quickly realized. Trains have the potential to be quite empty. Of course, that may or may not be true. It was all part of the nothingness I understood about trains.

This bus of my own creation stopped at Twenty-sixth and Branston – of my own creation – at the bus stop – also of my own creation. This happened at precisely midday. There and then did I, pen and notepad in hand, board the bus. It was crowded and uncomfortable. I mentioned that before. It was because of this crowd that I needed stand and wait three stops ‘till Church Street – of my own creation – before a seat was open to take. It was the last seat at the tail end of the bus. A rather large man named Hupert to my right. A sleeping woman to my left. Her name was Ester.

Ester boarded the bus, for no reason at all, only two stops before me on the made of street called Waterlane. She was a made up woman, but I made up the rest of her too. Her name was Ester Parwood. She had a husband name Aegis, though he’d gone away for a while. Ester wondered if gone away was him leaving her, as ‘going away’ was all he said when he stepped out of their small apartment in East Remington – a made up town of which I must be in if I am on the same bus as this East Remington woman named Ester Parwood – a long three weeks ago. She was a barren woman. She had brought Aegis no children, and she wondered if that was why he left her. She wondered a great many things about his leaving and the peculiar circumstances of her life in East Remington, but this was the wondering on her mind as she slept on the bus next to myself and Hupert.

Hupert Langston also rode the bus for no reason at all. He sat peacefully beside me, watching the pen skip lightly across my paper. He even read a bit, as I described in detail his pungent musk and sweaty arm that stuck quite uncomfortably to mine. He did not mind. He was a man of few concerns, as he was made up like everything else. And I being a made up person on this made up bus meant that what I scribbled meant nothing to him.

But these scribbles are rather important to me. In fact, they are everything to me. They are the only real thing that I describe to you, because what I scribble on this imaginary notepad on this made up bus is what I type, and what I type are the words you read. I hope you read them. Up to now I’ve scribbled only nothingness. Let me scribble some more. 

I boarded a bus at midday.

This bus, the 308 East Remington bus, had already made many stops throughout the morning and continued into the afternoon. Two stops ago, at the stop on Waterlane, Ester Parwood boarded. She was tired. It had been three weeks since Aegis left her and she began to lose sleep wondering if he would ever come back.

Mr. Langston had already been seated for some time when dreary Ester boarded the rig. She was an impressively tiny thing. Birdlike. Crushable. But Hupert Langston did not want to think about crushing Ester. Like the winged creatures she reminded him of, he found her meekness endearing. As endearing as birds and strangers can be. The space between them was comfortable enough, but it was soon occupied by a comely woman who had no business on the 308, let alone in East Remington. She belonged way up in a grey building to the West, scraping the sky like the walls that ought have been around her. She was smart, Hupert could tell, but not the kinda smart that would do her any good outside her shiny tower. 

The woman, dressed in grey, squeezed between them. This woman’s feet were the smallest Hupert had ever seen, but even small feet hurt when pinched in little black heels. Besides, he didn’t mind standing. Hupert would have gladly given up his seat. Only problem was the woman gave him no opportunity. Far more awkward it would be for him to stand up now, forcing his way out from beside her, than to simply let the ride pass in cramped discomfort.

Ester didn’t seem to mind. Her head lolled against the window. Eyes shut and a gentle snore at her lips. The only good sleep she got was on the 308.

It was images of children that crossed Ester’s eyelids. A boy. Toddler. Chubby cheeks and clumsy legs. Curly brown hair the same sandy color as Aegis’s. He was beautiful, but not Ester’s. Neither was the girl, not as young as the boy, with dark skin and ink black hair. She could have been Ester’s. In the dream they were together, in the park or at the school. Ester couldn’t really tell, but she did not care. For a moment it was happy, but the dream turned sad as the bus jolted and she woke briefly enough to remember that these children did not exist. Maybe their faces were real, belonging to the children of friends, coworkers, strangers. A young boy she’d seen in his mother’s cart at the grocery store, perhaps, or a girl holding hands with her father as they entered an apartment in the same building as Ester’s. However real they may have been, they were not real in the way Ester needed them to be.

She continued to dream herself the happiness denied to her while awake. 

And so it was for two stops to Twenty-sixth and Branston where I boarded, and on three more. I replaced the comely woman, like a more fitting version of herself. Not because I was smaller. I filled her space with the girth of me so that Hupert and Ester were forced closer to the grimy bus windows. I fit the space, not better in size, but better in self. The grey woman belonged in a grey tower. I belonged on the 308 with the rest of East Remington’s commuters. 

Except that isn’t true, is it? I am not a commuter. 

This is the thing I share with Ester and Hupert. The thing that binds us on this day and on this bus. We ride together, as strangers, with no destination in mind. I don’t suppose that means anything. In sharing this trait we become no closer. Hupert knows not my reasons for riding, nor does he seek to discover them. And Ester remains none the wiser, forehead tapping gently – sometimes violently – at the window with every jolt of the bus.

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