Number 36

There were three people left on bus 36 as it was making its last stops for the night. The lights above the seats buzzed like summer insects, and one of them was burnt out leaving the back few rows in a dark void. One of the passenger’s names was Helen and she worked at a law office. She was just a secretary, but that wasn’t what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. In her free time, she liked to take pictures of people she knew and edit them on the computer to make them look more abstract. Her favorite one she ever did was this photo she took of her ex-boyfriend. She altered the image to make it look like he was ripping his rib cage out of himself. When she showed it to her friends they thought it was a bit too gory for their tastes, and her mother only kept asking if everything was okay with her anxiety medication.  

One day while she was bored at work she saw her boss’s door was cracked so she decided to show him the picture and get his input on it. When she walked in however, he had his pants around his ankles and appeared to be watching pornography. Helen panicked almost immediately and nearly fell backwards out of the room. She didn’t know what to do, so she walked briskly to the women’s restroom and hid in a stall. Relaxing slightly in her hiding place she consulted her smartphone for information on what to do next. After a bit of research and a couple of minutes to calm down she left the bathroom and went straight to the office’s human resources department.  She told them everything and they made a bunch of promises that they would take care of it, and they just thought it was absolutely terrible that it happened in the first place. She went home for the weekend and called her Mom who didn’t seem as surprised as Helen thought she would be. In fact, her Mom told her she wouldn’t be shocked if her boss was still working there on Monday. She was right because when Helen returned Monday morning nothing had changed. It was the same person behind the desk as before. Weeks went by and still nothing happened. She even applied for a transfer, so she wouldn’t have to continue working in such an awkward environment. They ignored this, claiming that all the other attorneys liked their current secretaries and didn’t want to trade. Helen rode bus 36 home that night still waiting for something to be done but knowing deep down that she was stuck.  

The other passenger still on board was a thirteen-year-old kid that everybody called Twister because he reminded them of Oliver Twist. He ran away from home when his dad was going to make him go to a reformatory school because he refused to do his homework, and other chores he deemed pointless. He had a knack for absorbing punishment, nothing his teachers or parents ever did to him, ever made him give in and do what they said. He spent most of his days at the public library reading every book that they let him look at. At night he would roam the streets and pick people’s pockets like his mentor taught him. His mentor was this woman named Fey that lived on the street her whole life since her drug addict father got hit by a semi while the two of them were hitch hiking to California. She taught Twister that if he mastered the art of petty thievery he could live his whole life on the streets free as an eagle. He took his craft seriously and made enough most nights to cover his basic needs. Part of the discipline was to be nomadic, so he never had to worry about paying anyone rent. He carried his home on his back in the form of a small red tent he would sleep in when it was rainy or too cold.  Earlier that night Twister had his right eye punched in by this frat boy that was smoking outside of a club downtown. He was wearing khakis that were extra baggy, like he intentionally bought them a couple sizes too big. Twister saw them and thought he would be an easy target thanks to the loose pockets. When he went to make the grab however, an entire murder of crows swooped down from the roof of the building behind them drawing his victim’s attention. Out of instinct the frat boy caught one of the birds in his dominant hand, then after making momentary eye contact with Twister, whose hand was just inches away from his wallet, started to pummel him repeatedly in the face. The bird squawked in pain as its insides were crushed in the impacts of the blows. Twister could feel his eye swelling to the size of a tennis ball. After a few minutes the frat boy threw the crushed bird onto the concrete and walked back into the club. Twister just laid there and felt his heartbeat in his right eye. With his left eye he looked at the dead crow and realized he was more like that than an eagle.  

The last person on bus 36 was the driver. Everyone called him Mr. Mort not bothering to find out what his first name was. His life was a life of routine. He would smoke weed and play online poker until he couldn’t stay awake any longer. Then he would sleep for roughly eight hours until it was time to report for his shift. He would clean any dead animal carcasses out of the wheel wells, fire up 36’s engine, and hit the town. Mr. Mort drove those streets for decades outliving some of the routes he learned the job on. The people on his bus used to talk so much more than they did now. He didn’t know why that was, but it worried him. He didn’t know what the two people in his rear-view mirror were thinking, and part of him didn’t want to know. He didn’t know that their names were Helen and Twister, and they didn’t know that he was Mr. Mort, but the churches and the shrink’s offices were closed. He didn’t have any delusions of grandeur about his profession. Mr. Mort knew he was just a bus driver, but he also knew that people needed to talk to each other if anything was going to get better. He was going to take a risk. He was going to say something. Who were the people sitting behind him tonight on bus 36? Who was it that ferried them home through the dark?

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