Belonging to both everyone and no one, I considered the seat mine for some inexplicable reason before I even sat down. I leaned back in my green linoleum seat, against the cold window. My eyelids drooped heavily down. The skin flaps swooped low over my throbbing pulsating globs of gook that oozed from my sockets. I wiped the snot from my leaking eyes and realized I had forgotten my glasses at home. I shrugged and curled into myself.
We jostled forward with a rhythmical rocking. The other passengers quietly huddled in their seats and looked at their phones. Some pulled out a book. I was too tired to reach into my bag. Across from me sat a woman with long blonde hair and black framed glasses. She was wearing lipstick, which seemed out of place. I never wore the stuff because it would inevitably get all over my coffee cups, water bottles, hair, bowties, sandwiches, leaving a sticky mess of sludge and make me feel like a dirty filthy freak. Nothing makes me feel more unclean and disgusting than a trail moist of apricot gloss on a clean white coffee mug.
I caught myself staring at the woman and shuddered, looking away abruptly. I looked down at my knees and imagined her expression, clearly uncomfortably freaked out by me, maybe switching to a different seat, maybe telling her friends later about the behemoth monster of a girl who had stalking, lovingly stared at her on the bus.
After staring at my pointy knees and anxiously trembling thighs, I became mesmerized with the pattern of my jean fabric worn unto itself. My jeans hypnotized me like a failed entertainer who’s life is regaled to providing high school seniors with hackneyed amusement. My eyes sagged down. My chin slumped and hit my neck, my scarf swirling up to my ears, engulfing me in a blanket of things, comforting and dark, that I couldn’t really feel or accept.
As sleep lured me away from the bus ride I felt that every time I closed my eyes, all the other passengers would leap up and start dancing. I imagined that as soon as I looked away, into my subconscious, they took advantage of the privacy and pulled out their musical instruments from under their skirts and behind their seats. Jealously, I opened my eyes and everyone abruptly re-assumed their posts of reality, looking blank, waiting for the bus ride to end.
Floating in and out of dreaming, I was vaguely conscious that I wasn’t getting enough sleep to really make it worth it if I missed my stop, not that there would be a situation where that would be worth it. The songs of the bus passengers overtook me and I told myself I could sleep for three minutes and then I’d feel better, more rested, all day at work, that these three minutes were valuable precious sleep time.
I woke up, shaking and alert as I heard the driver announce a stop. Panicking I freaked out that it was my stop and ran out the front door of the vehicle. Something was different immediately but, still reeling from dreaming, I sorta accepted it and headed up the stairs like I thought I was going to my office. The steps were cleaner and closer together; the walls were golden as I climbed upwards. When I got to the to the top of the stairs the strands of sleep clogging my consciousness had been shaken off and I knew something was wrong.
“I got off on the wrong stop,” I said apologetically to a man who couldn’t have cared less. “Sorry,” I added. He was wearing a big overcoat and he looked offended that I had the gall to speak to him. He walked off in a huff. I turned to head back towards the bus stop, to find a new bus, to get to work which I would indubitably be late to, wondering if I had subconsciously done this on purpose.
Down at the bus terminal the floor was black and white tiled with red pieces of paper tossed around like a smattering of dead wishes. Without my glasses the scraps of paper could have been rose petals, but upon closer inspection it looked like someone had dropped a load of red origami paper and not had a solid enough sense of shame to clean it up.
A metro worker stood at the bus stop, holding a clipboard. I approached him nervously. He was wearing a silver elephant mask that I thought looked pretty nice. It was just the top half of the mask so you could see his human chin and big happy smile when he turned to look at me. On top of his head was a small fez that I was jealous of.
“Hey, sorry, um, when’s the next bus come?” I asked.
The elephant masked bus stop attendant dropped his smile. Behind the mask I could see his humanoid eyes (blue! green! I don’t know!) showing concern. “Are you expecting someone?” he asked.
“No,” I said. I looked down at my feet, my sneakers, peaking out from my too long jeans. I never bought pants that fit me because an act of that much responsible intelligence would involve shopping in the junior’s department at the store and I was afraid of the juniors with their teenage attitudes and bold voices and weird confidence.
“I got off on the wrong stop.”
“What’s your name?” asked the elephant masked attendant man.
“Barbara, you really need to take care of your eyebrows.”
He handed me a huge sharp set of gardening shears and gestured to my brow. I let my fingertips go to my forehead and felt my eyebrows, long and flowing down my face, thick and wavy with a delicious curl. They were as long as my regular hair.
“But what if I like them long?” I heard myself say. I caressed my tresses with a loving stroke.
“I’m sorry, that’s not your choice to make.” He sounded genuinely regretful, looking at me with obvious sympathy. “Not here anyway.”
Accepting the hedge shears, I obediently cut off my gorgeous black eyebrows and they fell to the tiled floor in long glossy locks. A tiny bird swooped down and plucked up my eyebrow hair in its beak. It flew away to add my DNA to it’s nest. I wondered if the DNA from my hair would mix with the incubating eggs while the bird sat on them and create a Barbara bird. I wondered if the bird would just be like a regular bird but with my face and if it would sing like me, high and quiet.
“Beautiful,” smiled the elephant masked man. “May I have this dance?” He wiped his already clean hand clean on a moist towellete and then politely held it out to me.
I hadn’t heard the music until then, but there it was, loud, glorious, fun and charming. Mandolins, clarinets, harps blared in a circus-like song through the bus terminal. I obediently accepted the elephant masked man’s hand and he placed his other hand gently on the small of my waist, the only four inches of my waist where I wasn’t embarrassed to be touched, which was considerate of him. We began to waltz, which I didn’t know I knew how to do. My feet found their spots, my hips found the rhythm. I held myself at a perfectly erect posture and smelled the stranger’s warm neck, careful not to look up into his dark blue, creepily familiar eyes.
“I need to find another bus,” I said softly. My voice was an insecure, unsure mumble. Did I need to find another bus? Why? What was the rush? Would the other bus have dancing?
A man in a lion mask approached us with a tray of champagne flutes and tiny seafood rolls. I took a glass of champagne and sipped it. I looked up at the elephant masked man and he was staring intently into my eyes, holding me tightly around the waist, watching my face and my thoughts with so much empathy that I wondered if he was inside of my brain. I gulped down the bubbly sensation.
“You can’t take a bus from here. Some busses come to here but none leave from here. Arrivals only. You are here now.” His voice was beautiful and deep. I found myself shyly dropping his gaze to look down at the floor, accidentally checking out the bulge, feeling my cheeks redden and my muscles tightened in horror and shame. I shook with the tension, feeling my breath constrict in my lungs.
“But I got off on the wrong stop,” I stammered.
“There are no wrong stops,” the elephant masked man said.
And before the words had dripped from his full lips, I already knew he was right. My scarf fluttered off my neck and into the middle of the bus terminal, a floating flag waving in the darkening tunnel, a flash of green against the golden walls and even though there was no wind it stayed afloat for forever.
based loosely on a true story