STORIES FROM THE BUS - Part 2
the story continues....
I look back at the crowded bus. All eyes are on Jessica. Staring, judging.
"Where are your shoes?" I ask.
"It's a long story," Jessica smiles. Her teeth need a good brushing. "I'm kind of a mess."
I laugh and stuff the desire to hug her wildly. "It's okay. Tell me."
And she does.
Jessica got off the bus in Ashland 4 days ago to reunite with the Love of her Life. He's a big guy, tall with wide shoulders, dark hair, dark eyes. They decided to hit the bars last night with a new girl she met; a single mom who needed a night out. The Mom has a little girl who showed Jessica how to make friendship bracelets a couple of days ago. She smiles as she describes Brittany; blonde, innocent, fun. Jessica doesn't remember when, but at some point last night she lost her shoes. Her girlfriend, the Mom, had the bright idea to color her feet with a Sharpie to make it look like she was wearing flip flops and it worked; Jessica thought that was brilliant, and they got in.
"Tequila," she says, "It's a crazy thing. Tequila makes me crazy." I shake my head. I had tequila once.
Jessica is twisting the ziploc in her hands. I can see what looks like colored string inside. She sees me staring at it.
"It's the friendship bracelets. They cut them off at the jail." Her eyes fill with tears. She holds out her hand until the early morning sunlight coming in through the bus window hits the purple glitter.
"Brittany painted my nails. I love purple."
"You spent the night in jail?" I ask.
"He headbutted me. He headbutted me in the bar." A tear creeps down her cheek.
The Love of her Life headbutted her? What do I say? God, help me say something important and spiritual.
"That's crap". It just comes out. Gah. What's wrong with me?
"What did you do?" I ask.
"What would you do?" She looks me full on in the face.
What would I do? I don't know.
"I broke his nose."
I look at her hand, now curled into a tight fist. The knuckles are red. She begins to laugh. I laugh with her. I begin to notice little bruises here and there, covering her arms and legs.
Mr. Love of her Life didn't go to jail last night. And he had her clothes, her suitcase, her shoes, everything. Single Mom was still in jail, because apparently she got mixed up in the fight. Jessica describes how they gave her an I.V. to sober her up, how one of the officers gave her a blanket and she had tried to sleep in a corner in a cold concrete room full of drunks. At 6am they released her from jail, but she had to give back the blanket. She walked to the bus stop barefooted, clutching bus tokens and that plastic baggie with friendship bracelets inside.
"What are you going to do?" I ask.
"Try to find him and get my stuff back. And find a way back to Portland." More tears are coming. She wills them back. I put my arm around her and look up.
People are staring, but now they're staring at me. Jessica's a loud talker. They all just heard her story. I have a lump in my throat. Why are they staring at me? The bus stops in front of Ray's Market, the stop before mine. A stocky girl with a tight ponytail brushes past, heading for the exit. She stops and pats Jessica on the shoulder.
"Good luck girl," she says in a deep voice. "I hope you find a hundred bucks on the ground today." And she bounds down the stairs into the sunshine.
"Sh*t," pipes up a small voice from across the aisle. "I hope we all find a hundred bucks today."
Voices laugh all around us. Jessica looks around at friendly faces.
"Thanks," she says.
I give Jessica my phone number. I give her every dollar in my purse, which equals six. I tell her to call me if she needs anything. She is trying to talk more, but it's my stop. I have to get off and get to work. I can't be late. She grabs my hand and squeezes it. It's still cold.
"Your sweater."she offers.
"Keep it." I step down onto the sidewalk.
The bus pulls away and I'm standing there alone, the sun warming my freckled face and I'm thinking. I'm thinking and thinking and then I'm crying. I feel alive. I feel like I want to chase that bus down the middle of Main Street. I want to save her, but all I did was give her my lunch money and my number.
She never called.
There are days I sit in my little gray cubicle and wonder where she is, and how she is, and if she kept the sweater. And I pray. Lord, how I pray.