The latest from our creative and personal essay Saturday series.

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“You’re too late,” said the bus driver.  “We’re leaving in five minutes.”

I had my ticket in hand and my bags were waiting on the curb next to the bus.  All he had to do was tear the ticket stub and stow my backpack in the luggage compartment like all the other bus drivers had done every single time I’d ridden this route.

“That’s all right,” I said.  “I have everything I need.”

I handed him the ticket.  He looked at it closely, like he was inspecting a forgery.  I waited for him to say something, but he just sat in the driver’s seat, not making eye contact with me.  I started moving towards the back of the bus, but the second I started to walk away from him he spoke up.

“Don’t you want your bags, young man?”

He drew out each word, making sure the inflection was pitched just so – to show he was in control here, not I.  I started to tell the driver that I was hoping to leave my suitcase in the luggage space, since it wouldn’t fit in the overhead bins, but he cut me off.

“You’re not going to leave without it, are you?”

I stepped off the bus, wondering why this was becoming so difficult but not wanting to aggravate the driver further.  I grabbed my bag and heaved it up the steps and towards the nearest open seat.  As I passed the driver he gave me a snaky smile and said, “You’d better hurry.”

I fidgeted with the bag, trying to cram it into the space above the seats, but to no avail.  The driver beckoned me towards the door.  I couldn’t believe what was happening.

“You can’t leave that in the aisle,” he said.

I stared at him for a second or two, trying to find some indication he was joking.  The lights on the dashboard reflected red in his eyes.  He was toying with me.  He handed me back my ticket, stub still attached.

“You’re too late,” he said again.  “You missed this bus.  You can get on the next one.”

We both knew there was no next bus—that this was it; after midnight, you were out of luck.  I knew pleading with him would get me nowhere.  I descended the steps and walked back towards my car, beaten.  I didn’t look back but I knew he was watching me, enjoying the slouch in my shoulders, the slowness of my step.

When I told my family about my encounter with the bus driver, they said the guy was just having a bad day.  They refused to accept that the driver just had it in for me, and that he was wholly cruel, that he probably treated his own mother the same way.  I badmouthed him for hours and finally convinced myself that some people were just terrible, day in and day out.  I thought up witty one-liners that would put him in his place if we ever crossed paths again.

Over the next few months, I rode the bus back and forth many times without issue.  I had all but forgotten the incident until one afternoon, as I waited in line to board the five o’clock northbound home for Christmas, I saw him.  The faded memory quickly regained all its former color, and for a moment I thought about turning around and waiting for the next bus.  But then he spotted me, and from the look he gave me I could tell he knew exactly who I was.  It was too late: turning back now would give him another victory.

I waited in line, confident that there was no way he could turn me away this time.  I rehearsed the comebacks I’d prepared months ago.  When I handed him my ticket he took a long time inspecting it.  Too long.

“This is almost expired,” he said.  “You cut that pretty close.”

He tore the stub without breaking eye contact.  I tried to conjure up a biting remark to counter with, but none would come.  As I climbed the steps, I reached into my pocket and took out the Snickers bar I’d bought for the ride, and I set it on the driver’s seat.

I’m still not sure why I did it.  Maybe it was a test, to see if he’d accept my peace offering and apologize.  Maybe some part of me felt guilty for the hours I’d spent telling his story to friends and family, using him as a way to make myself feel morally superior.

When I exited the bus, I noticed the candy bar wrapper in the trash bin along with the empty water bottles people had thrown away after the trip.  He pulled my suitcase out from the luggage compartment and handed it to me.  I thanked him, and he gave me a curt nod.  As I walked off towards the parking lot, I heard him wish me a good night.  I wished him the same, and drove home.

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