We caught the wrong bus home just the other day, but our blind pride made us stay.
“We already paid our fare” you said to me through bloodshot eyes, realising.
“We can see where it ends up” I said to you, in a sweatstained t-shirt.
We took our seats, middle of the bus, before the few steps up the the higher back section. I guessed it got higher there because there was a motor underneath. You told me you didn't care why it got higher. The bus was nearly empty. Aside from us, there was a Somali kid holding tight to a basketball, and a group of six along the back row. 3 guys, 3 girls. The guys in Jim Beam merchandise and tribal tattoos, the girls in von Bitch.
I think it was at this stage that you started explaining your theory of Buses as a Subset of Reality. “No other places are like buses, I'm sure of it. The same rules don't apply here. This is the last outpost of the sublime. The surreal”.
At the time, I didn't know what to make of this. But, as if to confirm the point you were making, one of the von Bitch'd girls up the back started singing along to a T-Pain ringtone, and so we fell silent. Soon the other two joined in, perfect pitch and tone. A ringtone choir.
“I, um, I sort of see what you mean?”
“There was no chance I was wrong about this”.
We continued in silence through the empty streets, your hand in mine or my hand in yours. I can't remember, but you know I don't like to get mixed up with details. “Hand in hand” is probably the best thing to call it. The streetlights illuminated the etchings that marked every window of the bus, and cast shadows on your face.
“There's something grand about traffic lights”, you said to me. “Like, the idea of them”.
“The fact that we so easily submit ourselves to the will of machines?”
“No. Stop being so depressing. I mean the way they keep going, doing their job, even when there's no cars around. Even with no one to appreciate their effort, they keep going. People could learn”
But you were cut short. The bus stopped suddenly, and the driver got up, marching past us to the back (the Higher Section, where the motor (possibly) is), past the now-terrified Somali kid to the back row.
“What have you been saying to this boy?” he demanded. We hadn't noticed anything. Caught up in traffic lights.
“We didn't say shit”. MTV emphasis.
“You called him a nigger. I heard you.”
“Whatever man. We didn't say shit”.
“Don't you say another fucking word to him”. Heartfelt emphasis.
“What the fuck are you gonna do about it anyway?” They were drunk. The air was static. You said later that it was like watching the final show of a long followed reality series, but I still don't know how I feel about this analogy.
“Besides, he is a fucking nigger. And so are you.”
We watched as our bus driver exploded, a ball of fuckin' rage. Back Seat Occupants looked genuinely scared – they knew a line had been crossed. Almost instantly our driver had “the leader” by the shirt, dragging him to the back door. He hit the emergency exit button, and as it opened inwards, smashed this fucker's face right into it. Nosebleed. Then threw him off the bus. The timing of it seemed practiced, maybe some sort of secret bus driver martial art. His eyes were like railguns or something – had the rest of those white trash fuckers running without saying another word. Ha ha!
“Thank. You.” said the kid, slowly and precisely.
“That. Was fucking rad.” I said.
“Where are we?” You said.
The driver only smiled, and restarted the bus.
“If people in DC Comics rode more buses, they wouldn't need Htrae”
You saw Eastgate Mall, and pushed the buzzer.
“We can catch another bus from here. Orbiter, maybe. Or Metrostar”.
“Why do all our bus routes sound like clapped out carnival rides?”
“Reality in advertising? Lets go”.
We got off at a wide avenue littered with broken glass, sparkling under street lights. I remembered seeing the liquor shop fifty metres away get robbed about a year ago, and started to feel sick. You checked the timetables, announcing that we were too late. Everything was finished. I smelled of nervous sweat and piss.
'We'll walk. It'll be half an hour, tops” I told you.
“I'm scared” you told me.
“I Will Protect You”.
Necessity was all that caused this walk, which neither of us wanted to make. I took your hand in mine as the cars with red-hot motors and screaming exhausts circled like sharks and seagulls around a shoal of sardines on Discovery. Only without Attenborough, it seemed far less interesting. We walked in silence, until we got scared of our own shadows.
“There's something following us” you whispered.
“No there isn't. It's just our shadows”
“Well, that's still something, isn't it?”
“You're being facetious”.
Multiple streetlights surround cast multiple shadows. In front, behind, and out to the sides. They grew and shrank, depending on how far we were between each set of lights. An unknown stalker, advancing and retreating. We were both surprised when walking faster did nothing to help our escape.
“We need to be rational about this. It is only our bodies, blocking the light from hitting the ground. We can't be afraid of that. It is physics, or something”. I was protecting you with physics.
“Oh, fuck.” We ran.
The closer we got to home, the better we felt. Familiar streets, parks. A 24 hour gas station, where we bought chocolate milk for $4 and felt okay about it.
“Don't even give no fucks about it!” you shouted at me. I think you were being ironic, or at least post-ironic.
In the familiar surroundings, we felt fine. We were the Warriors, returned to Staten Island. We were invincible.
“I wasn't really scared” you told me.
“Neither. I could fight ten guys right now. At least run from ten guys, if it came to that. My legs would be fucking tornadoes man. I would fly.”
“But I couldn't keep up. You'd leave me like that?” you asked, wounded.
“Of course you could keep up. We'd be like track cyclists. I would break the wind resistance for you. We would fly.”