She hadn’t been on a bus since she was a kid when she and her mother went cross-country together. But here she was again, in a window seat. . . except she was alone this time. The buses hadn’t changed much from her point of view. Still crowded with random, mostly poor passengers all facing forward. And somebody you don’t know asleep right next to you.
Leaning against the window, she turned her head slightly to watch the landscape slide by as the sun rose in the distance. She wiped away the condensation from the window a bit and peered out wondering where they might be, not that it mattered. She figured it would be another fifteen hours before they got to her destination, but it helped pass the time.
They were still in the Great Plains, that was certain. Mile after mile of fallow winter farmland where every now and then there would be a sign saying they were entering or leaving some county or other. She was about ready to take another nap when she saw the first road sign flash by her.
“Lost? Alone? Disconnected?” it said in black letters against a bright white background. She was wide awake now. Did she really see that sign or was she just dreaming? She looked quickly at the man next to her. He was still sleeping.
Quietly, and very slowly, she reared up a bit and looked at the people in the seats ahead of and behind her. They were still asleep. She apparently was the only one who had seen the sign. Or had she? Was it just her subconscious intruding on her waking life? She settled back down and looked out the window at the vast, unending landscape rushing towards her. She knew one thing for certain. There would either be another sign soon or there wouldn’t be. That was just how things worked. She looked out and waited.
“Looking for a way to make sense of things?” the next sign read as it flashed by. She was wide awake and knew this was no dream anymore. Again she moved quietly and determined that no one else seemed to have seen the signs . . . just her. Were they just meant for her? Could it be some kind of special message just for her? God, she really needed something special to happen in her life now, and she was ready to grasp at anything. But this . . . this was so out-of-the-blue, so odd, so unexpected. And way out here in the middle of nowhere.
As she slid back into her seat, another sign sped by. It read, “You have a choice”. Not really knowing why she did it, she immediately looked at the other side of the bus and saw another sign disappear quickly to her left. Plopping into her seat, she now realized the signs were on both sides of the highway, reaching travelers in both directions. Did they all say the same thing? And if they did, what was their point? She found her heart was beating faster now in anticipation of the next sign. She really felt alive for the first time in years and she wasn’t entirely sure why.
The sun continued to rise and the bus was warming up a bit. The passengers were starting to wake up and move around, even the guy next to her. He woke up, sat up straighter, rubbed his eyes and smiled at her. But that was it. Nothing else. She leaned her head back against the cold window and waited.
“Get off at the next stop and begin afresh” it read, again in stark black lettering against a bright white background. She checked her watch. They were hundreds of miles from her destination, apparently speeding down a straight ribbon of highway with few scheduled stops. She pardoned herself, rose and moved towards the aisle, the man next to her politely adjusting his position to accommodate her. She straightened her dress, checked the buttons on her blouse, pushed her hair back and headed towards the driver.
“Excuse me but is there a stop coming up soon?” she asked tentatively.
He turned his head slightly and replied, “Not a scheduled stop, but some folks get off at a crossroads about three miles up the road. I’ll pull over if you want to get off.”
“So, you often drop passengers off at this crossroads?” she wondered.
He nodded and added, “Not often. Why don’t you go back to your seat and I’ll announce the stop in plenty of time for you to get your luggage out and get ready to get off.”
She smiled, thanked him, and moved slowly back towards her seat. The other passengers either acknowledged her or didn’t as she moved back down the aisle and arrived at her seat. She waited for the man next to her to move to allow her back into her seat, and then settling down, she found herself completely focused on the roadside ahead as another sign swept by.
“You won’t regret it. Your new life is waiting” it read. She inhaled deeply and then heard the driver yell out, “Stop ahead.” She looked at the man next to her, made her apologies, and rose to move back into the aisle. As she retrieved her luggage from the rack, the bus slowed down, pulled onto the shoulder, and stopped. She moved forward, pulling her luggage on its wheels behind her, and felt the cold air from outside sweep down the aisle as the driver opened the bus door.
He was holding the door lever as she maneuvered her way down the steps and out onto the barren landscape. Standing there all alone, she looked back at the bus driver. He smiled, pulled on the door lever, and moved the big bus back onto the highway. She wished she’d worn something warmer as the bus moved quickly away from her. But she was strangely elated for reasons still foreign to her.
For the first time, she looked around and saw that she was really, really in the middle of nowhere. The main highway pushed along in both directions, unimpeded by any landscape, and the crossroads didn’t have a road name or even a mile marker. She saw no other traffic and there was nowhere to sit.
She reached into her purse for her phone, saw her last dollar bill, and then discovered there was no phone service. Putting on her sunglasses, she sat down on her suitcase and waited.
It wasn’t long until she saw dust arising about a mile down the crossroads and moving towards her. Standing up and waiting for a moment, she could just make out an old pickup truck headed her way.
She smiled to herself, checked her dress and the buttons on her blouse, and knew that, for a while at least, she was probably going to miss Starbuck’s.