The Bus Stop

A young woman with a weathered face stood alone at the bus stop. Her coat was threadbare, her fingertips exposed through gaping holes in the pockets. She huddled next to the shelter to shield herself from the pellets of heavy snow that blew and swirled in the street like a mini-tornado. She desperately needed to board the next bus but had no money to pay the fare.

Finally, the bus slid into the stop. John stepped off and the young woman moved out of his way, her head bent low. He stopped, breathless, peering through the young woman’s long strands of dirty hair. It was Martha.

Even with her unwashed hair and ragged clothes, she was still the most beautiful woman on earth. John touched her shoulder softly and she looked up at him, her eyes filled with terror like a trapped mouse.

John moved his hand down her shoulder and grabbed her arm. Martha ripped it away, clutching the bus stop sign to keep from falling on the icy sidewalk.

“Leave me alone,” she hissed.

Her eyes pierced through him like twin swords.

“I’m, John,” he said. “Your husband…” He tried to see something familiar in her eyes, but they were black and deep and dark.

Still clinging to the bus stop sign, she righted herself and brushed off the front of her coat. The bus pulled away from the stop, leaving a puff of diesel in the air. Martha looked after it.

“Damn, I missed my bus. You got a quarter?”

John was blank. He had spent the last seven months looking for her and now she seemed to either not know who he was, or not care.

“Do you know who I am?” he said.

Her eyes flitted about, unfocused. She glanced at him for an instant and then away, at something. Maybe it was the bus that had left, maybe it was nothing. She shrugged.

“Can we talk? Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

She said nothing for a long moment. “If I go with you, will you give me fare for the bus?”

“Sure,” he said.

They slid into seats of a booth at the coffee shop across the street. Martha picked up the menu for an instant and flopped it back on the table. She stared out the window while mindlessly picking at her fingernails.

Now that they were indoors, he could smell the filth, the odor that crept out of her pores. He knew there might be a chance she’d be living on the streets, just like when he’d met her. Still, he didn’t expect her to be like this.

“The kids miss you, they ask about you every day,” he said.

Her eyes shot at him like a pistol. “Why do you say that? What did you do with my children?”

“Our children are at home, where you left them.” He emphasized our children.

A wrinkle formed on her forehead, the one that he loved to see when she was confused or trying to remember something.

“Are you my husband?” Her voice turned up at the end with uncertainty.

“Yes, Martha. I’m John, your husband. We’re married and we have two children, Jenna and Matt.”

“Ah,” she said, gazing out the window again.

The waitress whisked by, poured coffee in their cups and John ordered for both of them. When she went to next table, Martha was still staring out the window.

“Martha?”

She leaned in at him, the fury gone from her eyes. They sparkled a bit of blue from the brightness outside.

“Why did you –,” the words caught in his throat. “– why did you leave?”

“Peanuts,” she said.

“Can you repeat that?”

“Pea – nuts,” she said slowly, like a parent would speak to a young child.

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“The bad men left peanuts on the counter. They came out of the jar and started marching around and telling me what to do.”

“The peanuts.”

“Yes.”

She fidgeted in her seat, pulled up her sleeve and scratched her grimy skin. “Look, are you going to give me bus fare, or what?”

“I’ll give you the fare after we eat.” He took a bite of his toast. He wasn’t at all hungry but didn’t want to her run.

“Fine,” she said. And in the same way he’d remembered, she picked up her fork and ate her breakfast elegantly.

I feel like I don’t even know this woman, John thought.

But little movements, like the way she ate her eggs, told him she was still Martha.

fin

Everything on this blog is property of Kathan Lewis and Kathan Ink. 
© Kathan Lewis 2010.

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© Kathan Ink 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kathan Ink, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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