The number nine bus, packed full of students eager to get home, pulls into the bus lane at Lion’s Park train station. Most of the passengers disembark to catch the train and I’m left alone on the bus with the driver and a young blond girl reading an over-sized novel – probably an assigned reading for some stodgy literature class. The book looks ridiculous in her tiny hands; she needs both to hold it steady.
The bus driver steps off the bus, as he does each day, to smoke a cigarette. Every day I contemplate the paths each of the passengers had to follow for this scene to play out exactly as it does each day. The path that inevitably leads to me sitting on the same bus, watching the same driver smoke his cigarette in the same place, at the same hour, five out of seven days a week.
I’m halfway home. Pretty soon I’ll be watching TV and procrastinating getting started on my homework.
I look up to another familiar scene playing out beyond the Plexiglas windows of the bus. A group of homeless men mill about, some are splayed out across the lawns of an adjacent office building, others are hunting through the cracks of the pavement for cigarette butts. Nothing special, the same group of men stand in the same places doing the same things every day.
My detached contemplation on similarity is interrupted when, for no apparent reason, a homeless man walks up behind one of his fellows and brutally punches him in the back of the head. I watch in terrified slow motion as the hapless victim’s feet leave the ground, his body locks into a deathly rictus, and – due to the incredible force of the punch – lands forehead first on the unrelenting pavement at the feet of his attacker. A pool of blood spreads out beneath his head.
I’m frozen in place, my mouth hangs open. Is this for real?
I turn to get a better look at the events transpiring beyond the window. The blond girl in the seat behind me appears transfixed, her eyes as wide as saucers, tiny hands covering her open mouth.
I rip out my ear buds and at the same moment the bus driver bus driver, now back from his smoke break, shouts: “somebody call the police!”
Stop. Did he just say police? I need to get out of here. I can’t be here when the cops arrive. I don’t want to go to prison. I’m not cut out for prison.
“Yeah, he looks dead, can you guys hurry?” the girl says into her cell phone. She must’ve called 911 while I was lost in panic. The cops are coming. They’re on their way right now. Why isn’t everyone freaking out? I need to get out of here.
I stand up and make a break for the door.
“Where are you headed buddy?” The bus driver blocks my path. I lean over and look behind him, he’s closed the door. Why did he close the door?
The bus driver leers at me with one eyebrow raised suspiciously, “are you okay?”
“I- umm- I-,” is all that escapes my firmly clenched jaw. I turn towards the back door, hoping for another way off the bus. I take two panicked steps forward.
“Where are you going?” asks the bus driver, “I can’t let you off, that psycho is right outside.”
“I-” I stutter, “I need to go.”
“Just sit down,” says the blond girl. “He can’t get in here, we’re safe.” She stands and approaches me. I back away.
“We’re not safe!” I can hear the police sirens getting closer.
I’m trapped between the girl and the driver. I pace back and forth between my captors, unable to hold still, but knowing I have nowhere to go.
“What should we do?” The girl asks.
The bus driver shrugs. “Do you think he’s got a warrant or something?”
“A warrant for what?” I ask. Yesterday I went to school, rode this stupid bus home, and stayed in all night. I didn’t do anything different. At least I don’t think I did anything different.
Stop. Maybe it’s not me they’re looking for. Maybe someone who looks just like me did something terrible? They’ll still think I’m guilty. I can’t go to prison. I’m not cut out for prison.
“Yeah, we’re gonna need another ambulance.” Says the girl, still on the phone with 911.
“No!” I try to push the bus driver out of my path.
Stop. The cops are outside. They’re going to talk to me. They’re going to think I’m guilty of something. Am I guilty of something? Does it matter? I can’t go to prison. I’m not cut out for prison.
The bus driver uses my confused terror to maneuver me into a seat. “It’s going to be fine buddy, the cops are right outside. There’s nothing to worry about.”
I stare desperately out the window as the cops talk to the stupid jerk who had decided to rain police down on my routine. He stands, turns his back towards one of the cops, and calmly holds his wrists together as he is cuffed. Is this guy insane? He’s just going to let them take him? What an idiot.
The cops escort the stupid jackass across the street and to their car, carefully guiding his head as he is placed in the back seat.
Stop. Now it’s going to happen. Now they’re going to want to talk. Now it’s all over. Now they’re going to take me to prison. I’m not cut out for prison.
The bus driver nonchalantly turns the big silver handle to open the bus’s doors and the blond girl carelessly steps out onto the street. “It’s okay, he’s gone,” she says.
He’s gone? I frantically look around, rushing from one row of windows to the other, making sure to look out each one. I can’t see cops anywhere, they’ve all left. I exhale, releasing the pressure held in my chest, step off the bus and join the blond girl in the open air.
“Are you going to be okay?” She asks.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” The bus pulls away, “but I’m going to need another way home.”
She shakes her head and walks away.