A metaphorical twist on an experience many have been a part of.
| The man took a final look upon his ticket before he stepped up onto the stairs leading into the city bus, then eagerly looked up at the appearedly morose driver who returned to the excited young man a dreary, glazed stare. His eyes shone like black holes, voids into the eternity of nothingness beyond his retinas. Unfazed by the profound example of exhaustion before him, the young man handed the ticket to the bus driver, who reluctantly took it, tore it in half, and placed
it into the basket on the dashboard, which was filled over the top with hundreds of other ripped tickets. In a depressive, worn out and monotone voice, as if he had uttered it a million times, the bus driver said, “I’ll need you to understand a few things before you take a step onto this bus. It stops for nothing besides its own destination, and you cannot stop it prior. You are to remain seated and buckled in until this destination is reached, and you will compose yourself cordially amongst the other passengers. Speak calmly, think carefully, and have a good trip. Foremost, however, do not ignore anything I just said. The consequences of such are substantial.” The young man nodded his head, and with great anticipation, stepped onto the mundane staircase of the bus into a new world; the steel walls, interrupted only by the sizeable window ports by each seat; the rubber walkpad stretching from the front to back of the bus down the aisle; the domes of light attached to the ceiling, very much artificially illuminating the entire vehicle with a white light so harsh and unaccommodating that only a human could have crafted it. There was but one thing missing: passengers. The young man found himself alone amongst the rows of seats, which must have stretched at least twenty feet from behind the driver’s seat to the back of the bus. But the young man knew beforehand that there would be no passengers but himself. His only company was the weary bus driver, who called back to him upon looking into the rear view mirror at him. “This is your last chance to exit the vehicle before we begin our ride. Are you sure about this?” The young man nodded to the mirror above the dash, and the driver looked at the controls in front of him before letting out a sigh, whereupon he reached for a knob. He shifted such downward, and the hydraulics of the bus shouted as the door closed to the driver’s side. He once more looked into the mirror at the young man, then hung his head and faced the road.
The man looked around the bus almost anxiously, then reminded himself of the said rules that he was told upon his entry. He shimmied himself into one of the aisles, about in the center passenger side of the bus, and buckled the seat belt around his waist. He stared out of the viewport and into the street, bustling and full of life. He would finally be leaving this town, at least for a while, and felt a slight sense of unease as the bus began to move. This is it, he thought to himself. I finally get to see something new. His surroundings stayed familiar, and with little time, the young man was becoming impatient. He pulled the phone from his pocket, and inspected his home screen. The same old default background behind blaring digits that read 5:23PM, nothing new. Nothing exciting. He looked out of the viewport again, now to find that the bus was traveling towards the edge of town, which was a small and disconnected little piece of America, where there were still payphones and people still went door to door to speak and spend time with each other, rather than calling or playing games online with each other. He knew it like the back of his hand, every in and out, just like almost anyone there did. It was very much to ask for something bizarre or extravagant to happen here; just a poor town surrounded by a couple more poor towns, each filled with their own communities who all knew each other. Everyone went to church on Sundays, everybody’s favorite meeting place was the town’s central park or the Denny’s towards his house, and everyone knew somebody who needed work, but there never was any. Money was hard to come by, and so were many other things; for the young man, what he lacked was a sense of experience - a lack of life, the birth of new sights, memories, events, people and places. He wanted to see what there was beyond the monotony of the town.
Although he was enthusiastic about this new experience, there was an undertone of disappointment in his mind. They were still in the town, and with nothing else to do and no one to communicate with, he shouted up at the bus driver, “Hey, where do you think we’ll be going on this trip?” The bus driver grunted and looked back at him through the mirror, making direct eye contact for what seemed like minutes before speaking himself.
“I was in your shoes once. Shoes I could fill. I was just like you, boy, but despite once standing where you are right now, I cannot answer your question. I will never be capable of telling you where you are going. Now, I advise you to remember what I said about composing yourself cordially. It’s best not to distract the driver.” He turned his soulless eyes back to the road, and his face formed into a sad, empty one; not replacing the exhaustion that was there formerly, but rather contributing to it. The young man stared for a moment in confusion at the driver, but decided it was best not to agitate him further, and so he pulled his phone back out to ease the time away till they got out of town. He opened his text messages. Unopened texts from several people sprawled across the top of his screen, followed by messages he’d read but refused to respond to. He thought about these for a moment; at the top of the list was his mother. How have you been, baby? I’ve been trying to reach you for days. I’d like to get a chance to talk to you when I can; I’ve heard that things have been stressful, and I really want to get in touch with you and remind you that I’m always thinking about you. Whatever you may be up to, text me back - or even better, call me - whenever you feel like it. I love you, and I hope you’re well! The young man hovered his thumb over the text box, but decided to type nothing, and instead started scrolling down through his message history. Dozens and dozens of contacts, each just as, if not more, distant than his mother. So out of touch, so far away from understanding. None of them could quite grasp what drove him away, what separated them from himself. Even the young man didn’t quite know, but he wanted to, which was exactly why he was here.
He trapped himself in the abstract thought that rampaged his mind, thinking about each and every message sprawled throughout his phone. Lost relationships, distant friends, unanswered questions, pain and loneliness. No matter what was said over text, the recipient and sender were always separated by a screen and what felt like miles. Consolation of any sort was ineffective, because they weren’t really there; but it was certainly convenient for them to pretend to be. The world felt distant, and the deeper the young man got into his own digital history and disappointments, the more emotion crept through his skin, eventually penetrating deep beneath the surface and into his very core. Anxiety had snuck itself into his mind, and the paranoia he felt became visible upon his face. What could have been? The thought danced gracefully around the young man, who was steadily descending into the worst that the human mind had to offer; relentlessly, it seemed, the thought tormented him, and applied itself to every whimsical passing of imagination possible. Finally, the pressure building up in his torso became too great to bear, and he hurriedly slammed his thumb into the power button of his phone, shutting it off. Up he looked at the bus driver, who casually glanced back at him, seemingly unaware of the experience the young man was having in that moment.
The young man stared deep into the somber face of the bus driver, and as he peered closer, he could not help but notice a change. The driver’s face had become alien, with features unbeknownst to the young man prior. It had also taken on a new air of emotion; the driver’s face now appeared to be what could only be described as nervous, and the prior sorrow and exhaustion that had been evident had only since intensified. Looking at the driver made the young man uncomfortable, and as a wave of fear sifted through his bones, he decided it was a better decision to look out of the windows instead. To his utter shock, they were already out of town and traveling across an enormous concrete bridge, beneath which was what felt like hundreds of feet of open air between the vehicle and the dark, calm water beneath him. He glared across the water at twinkling lights of civilization, lighting up the banks of the river on both sides, nearly all the way to the bridge at both ends. The clouds in the now night sky had created a hole through which the young man could see the gleaming stars, infinitely in the distance, long past the moon which dominated the lightshow above the water. The scene he was taking in did better than any thought could at grounding him, and slowly, he calmed. The water began to breathe heavier now, and the young man, with the bus being near the end of the bridge, watched as the lights and river in front of him danced and displayed the fantastical motions and aberrations they had to offer before they finally disappeared behind a treeline, its darkness impregnable by the comparatively weak light that the sky produced from beyond. As quickly as it came, the scenery had disappeared, and a dark forest bequeathed to the bus an abnormally shadowy and vibrant setting, which apparently continued down an avenue of untold length.
The man looked forward once again, but this time he ignored the driver, looking into the road beyond him instead. It continued endlessly, stretching between the vast forest into oblivion, the meager headlights illuminating their immediate surroundings ahead. The road markers disappeared after what seemed only like meters, but the encompassing darkness seemed not to have an effect on the bus driver, who, as the young man again shifted his attention to him, seemed to inherit a sense of calm. Now in a more stable headspace, the young man took his time of little turbulence to look out of the viewport by his head, the forest passing and transforming to his side as he thought deeply about the ride thus far. Around him, the world warped, and behind his expressive face was awe and renewed excitement. A rejuvenating rush moved through his mind and body as he took in the world around him, watching the subtle differences in the ever changing, yet similar, environment; the gently wavering trees cascading their branches towards the bus; the stars in the night sky shifting and forming patterns, their dim lights twinkling in the unimaginable distance. He reflected back to the text messages he screened through earlier, and a sorrowful thought came and went through his mind as he evaluated the personal relationship that ultimately led him to this bus in the first place. How lonely could the world be; for I am alone now, but feel alive and engrossed in the world around me; how lonely could it really be? The world is truly only as lonely as one makes it, he thought to himself, enveloped in deep thought. Perhaps there was more for me at home than I initially believed. Mulling it over, the consideration made him miss his mother, all the miles away at home, probably wondering where he was right now, and why he hadn’t answered the phone.
He shuddered briefly. Would it be wiser to return? Or keep traveling onward? He then realized that it didn’t matter what he wanted to do right now. He couldn’t leave the bus, as the driver had mentioned prior. The young man crossed his arms over his chest and looked back out the viewport, whereupon he realized he was no longer in the forest. An urban sprawl was beginning, neighborhoods starting and branching out beyond the dense woodline. Ahead, the road had straightened out, and a stoplight could be seen in the distance, glaring its harsh red into the surrounding green of the forest. Lights from porches and windows beyond sight shone a dim, warm sheen of orange and white through the blankets of leaves and timber, and past the stoplight ahead, which turned green as they approached, buildings appeared, and the young man began to recognize things like a gas station, a bustling convenience mart, and a small shopping center. Vague familiarity hung at the back of the young man’s head, and he looked at the bus driver again. His face had once again changed, and the sorrowful, exhausted look had transformed into one which was warm, and, although still tired, simultaneously happy.
The young man sat up a bit out of his seat, and grabbed onto the next seat, propping himself up to prepare to speak. “Excuse me, sir? I know that the bus can’t stop until it reaches its destination, but how long will it take before it does reach it?” the young man asked, peering his head over the seat ahead of him, his eager eyes trained upon the front end of the vehicle.
“I’m really not sure, to be honest with you. Maybe a couple of hours, perhaps?” The bus driver’s response sounded like more of a suggestion than an estimate, and the young man sat back in his seat fully and contemplated the ride instead of prying further, since he clearly wasn’t going to get a response better than that. Now, within the bus, bizarre geometric patterns formed and shifted upon the various surfaces of the interior, and the textures the young man felt were now foreign, filled with curiosity and mystique, whereas before they’d been bland, simply the same processed leather seats and stamped out sheet metal. A world of knowledge grew behind each and every square inch of the bus as questions now filled the young man’s head, many of which an answer could be found simply by delving a little deeper into thought than typical. Simply looking at and feeling the world around him, he dove into a universe as deep as the cosmos themselves, and at times, just as beautiful. So enveloped into thought, was he, that the young man did not notice the bus slowing to a stop in front of a familiar house in a familiar neighborhood, until the driver finally spoke without first being spoken to.
“We are here,” he calmly announced. “The bus ride is over. It’s your time to hop off.” The young man nodded, and stood very slowly, and as he did so, an uncontrollable urge to move forward down the aisle overtook him. So he did so, and walked towards the front of the bus, and just before climbing back down the steps, he turned to the bus driver and thanked him. Turning slowly to the man, the bus driver said, “It was my pleasure, actually. Thank you, friend, and if you must take this adventure again, I will be the one driving you. You won’t need to call or ask for me.” He smiled down at the young man as he took his final steps off the bus, whereupon the hydraulic doors made their classic, squeaky close. The young man then turned to the house before him, and walked to the front door, where he was greeted by his mother with open arms.