At the Bus Terminal (short story)

Walking slowly into the bus station Jeff reads every departure and arrival. Ahhh, a Houston bus has just arrived and an Oklahoma bus is just going. Are these people, all the people on the seats, are they all going to Oklahoma? Jeff sits down in the mangy interior, unfolds a newspaper with a brisk movement and sits in the waiting room. He doesn’t read any of the paper, in fact he’d already read it this morning. Rather, he’s reveling silently  inbetween places: here people come and people go, and here he can stay and watch all the goings on with a similar pleasure as watching ducks at the pond.

Smiling a softly sad smile, Jeff watches all the going on’s over his newspaper. Everyday after work for the last five years this has become his routine. He checks the schedule everyday as he walks in, and as of yet in the entirety of five years it has only had one major route change. That was an exciting day, to see the bus come that has never arrived here before, to see all the little ticks that the staff have trying to adjust to something new when happenings of the new are few and far between. Almost everyday there are buses that are late, and these always provide exciting times.

Once, a bus was two hours late, and for the entirety of it a woman with her two small children waited for her husband to arrive. As they first arrived the jubilee of buses arrival was radiating from the three of them. Soon daddy is home, soon my husband is home, soon, again, we will be a full household. The bus was two hours late. It had to have a driver change where the driver called off sick and no replacement was found in time. Two hours is not such a long time, but it is endless when you are feeling at the top of the world and trying to maintain that euphoria. It is beyond endless when you are with two small children. Jeff watched the time pass, watch as the goofy grins gradually left the children’s faces, replaced as the time passes between look of patience, impatience, annoyance, crankyiness and finally the very worst: unending boredom. At the beginning the children were on their best behavior, by the time the bus finally arrived with their father they’d become little nightmares, the mother exhausted by trying to keep them in line and when her husband finally arrives they all hug quietly without euphoria and coldly walk to the car. The wonder that had so much potential had been lost. Jeff silently wept in his own mind watching the whole opera. It had easily been one of the highlights of his year.

Jeff is somewhere in the middle ways, the sorry type of man that so easily gets lost in a society that only prizes the individual, the successful individual at that. Is there a point to summarizing a life in a sentence? Even the grandest life would seem truncated, empty, yet, we will try since to understand Jeff you need to have his context. His children have come and gone, a part of his life that at the time seemed like such a head ache but now he looks back as the happiest time of his life. He was not close to his children. He has been divorced for five years, around the same time his children moved away. It was a silent point of pride in his life that they stayed together through so much personal indifference to each other until his children became adults. Jeff was ok with his kids being so much more close to their mother then him, it just seemed like the natural order of things. Now, five days a week for fifty weeks a year he wakes up in his inpersonal condo, has a large cup of black coffee and goes to work as a car salesman.

Being a car salesman is hard work for beginners, however, Jeff was no beginner. He’d been in the industry for over thirty years and he’s made peace with the ebb and flow. On some days you make a sale, on most days you don’t. Most days were boring, sitting there always needing to be turned on, always watching, waiting, hunting, yet, it was just that, waiting.

There was a high burnout rate for the new guys,   you can watch them show up at the beginning eager, ready to make money. Then, watching as the smiles break, the hunger becomes cannibal: they have to make the sale, they need to eat, it’s a slow month, they have to have to have to. These new guys, they were like new farmers, thinking every month would be harvest time and never preparing for a dry spell. Well, dry spells happen, and they can break even the strongest. Jeff was friendly with the new guys, but he never became close, it can hurt your soul being near someone who is breaking, and many of these guys over weeks, months, even years, they break. For Jeff though, he was a veteran, he’d survived though sometimes he looks back with a grin and thinks all it cost him was his relationship with his children and his marriage. It’s a pretty ironic grin. Jeff had no secret in the industry but an easy smile, a professional manner and above all patience. A few years before he’d been watching a nature documentary and he saw a man fishing for wild salmon with his bare hands. The man would let dozens slip through his hand, not moving, barely breathing until BAM, suddenly, one that to an ordinary person would look the same as all the others to the hunter would look perfect and he would grab it perfectly, dinner would be had for the night. You don’t need so many salmon to feed a man, and you don’t need to sell so many cars to make a living, you just need to make sure that when the right one comes you get it.

While it never consciously crossed Jeff’s mind, he was purposeless. He’d accomplished those things that he was going to accomplish and now no one had a need for him anymore. Sure, this idea never consciously verbalized itself to Jeff, but if one was to watch him for any amount of time it would become very evident that he was aware of this fact. Even more, he seemed to be at peace, since for some having nothing to look forward too was a nightmare, but for Jeff it was wonderful: it meant nothing to fear. Everyday could be the same, it made no difference, the clock was ticking towards something, some type of end. Jeff was not a hunter, all of his bills were cared for , he was no artist. Simply, the world had no need for him and equally he had no need for the world.

Except, of course, for his daily trips to the bus terminal. Simply sitting there, sometimes in the same seat, sometimes sitting wherever there was many people, sometimes sitting away from the others.. Here, not at his home and not at his work, one gets the feel that Jeff is most alive. His head is like a young sparrows, flitting each and every way to see all the happenings. He loves it all, absorbs it all. Some people arriving just on time, some people arriving just late. Long, passionate goodbyes and cold cure get-away-from-me’s. With a child like glee he absorbs it all.

Perhaps Jeff subliminally accepted that the tree of his life was to bear no more fruit, however, this is not to say that there was no magic in witnessing the art of life being acted by others. Some might go to a restaurant, some a movie theatre, Jeff chose the bus station. A place where people come and go, a place that is always out of the routine, either the beginning or the end of a new chapter of life, something that Jeff had long lost the ability to imagine.

Sometimes Jeff thought of buying a ticket. Go to one of the clerks, all of who had long ago become used to his continues presence and finally go somewhere, anywhere. It was a nice fantasy. He thought that he wouldn’t tell anybody, just blitz off. At work he had years of unused vacation days prepared, he was sure that he could leave without a note and just tell his manager that there he had to leave immediately for personal reasons. Nobody else would really care. He could go on the bus without a suit case, get off on the other side and be whoever he wanted. New name if he wanted, but even more a new personality. He could be the joker, the romantic, the drunk, anything he wanted to be. While in Jeff’s secret heart he knew he would never leave, that he had made his bets in his life and now just had to play out his hand, nobody can blame a man for mindless fantasy. In fact, if only there was the ability to actually talk with Jeff, to tell him that ‘Yes,’ he really  can leave this life, he really can recreate himself, turn the vehicle of his life a new direction, a more honest direction. Life does not need to be measured by the route you have been on or the route you are going, everyone is the master of their own destiny. Jeff is the master of his own destiny.

However, it is Jeff’s life to live. He is happy, in a way that pleases him if perhaps it wouldn’t please everyone. Things are good, perhaps things aren’t great, but to have things be good isn’t something to be lightly sniffed at. Those few moments each day at the bus terminal is not the sign of a man wishing to escape, it is more a reflection of a man watching television, fantastizing about a story that he doesn’t need to live to love. Days pass, pass and pass. This is a life. It may even be a good life.


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