Worcester native Nick Duffy shares his short story "The Bus Stops," a tale of a man waiting for the public bus in Worcester.
Read "The Bus Stops" below:
The Bus Stops
By Nicholas the Poodle
The part of his civic duty he got paid for was over, but now Jamie needed to wait for the bus. There were two bus stops outside the institution. The bus stop for bus 6 had a nice shelter where pedestrians could sit on a bench and wait. The shelter was white but there was pollen and graffiti covering the bench inside. The other bus stop was a lamppost with a rectangular sign for bus 3. According to the phone, bus 6 would arrive sooner. Jamie walked through the parking lot. It was so empty that he looked around without a care. It seemed like the landscaper raking with no sleeves was aware that Jamie should watch out for any cars, but Jamie got to the other side of the parking lot and did not get hit by a car, only walking over the painted lines on the pavement and exiting the grounds of the institution.
He walked left on the sidewalk about five hundred feet to the shelter.
He did not sit on the graffiti because he was wearing his new suit and the bench was covered in yellow, green pollen. Spores of the pollen had been gliding about in the campus air all morning, he noticed, walking out of the library.
Jamie expected to wait for no more than fifteen minutes. Suspiciously, he eyed bus 3 as the bus encroached. He had come to wait for bus 6, but bus 3 had come first. He was new to riding the public bus, and if the Worcester schedule was regular, he was not yet accustomed to it. He watched bus 3 go from a distance and continued to wait for bus 6.
Two other men had been sitting there on the bench. They were also employees of the institution. Jamie could tell because of their blue uniforms and insignias on their shirts. The two spoke in a foreign language. Jamie said a very masculine “Hello,” like a bark. The trees in the neighborhood across the street had dark pockets that made them seem very knowledgeable. ‘If these trees are the things people are cutting down so much, I’m sure the trees do not like to come to such untimely demises,’ thought Jamie.
For a man who was not yet middle-aged, Jamie kept life and death rather close. He had gotten to the point where he could feel things only bodily, like the first dart the Buddha alludes to in his discourse, and feeling himself only bodily, Jamie could imagine that subtracting himself from this view of sidewalks, houses, cars, and enormous blue sky, would not remove much, just one learned man. Physically, nothing would change. Psychologically, more so. He had a family. Some relatives did not approve of Jamie taking the public bus though. Then, people typically had cars. Especially the ones who had money to pay for cars. Jamie had walked through an intersection the other day while over twenty cars waited at stoplights and he found it amusing how he was able to walk hastily.
No red light could stop his feet.
Jamie continued to wait. A lady who walked from the neighborhood across the street toward the avenue and turned left was now walking toward the shelter on Jamie’s side of the road. She wore a bloodred shirt. Her hairs nested under a spray-painted hat. She had a little radio that was playing music. Jamie thought they liked each other from a distance; up close he saw that she was older than he suspected, and he hoped to let go of the initial shock that she was not so sexy by the time the lady walked by him. He had plenty of time. About 40 seconds. When she walked by, Jamie smiled and wiggled a bit to the music that came out of her radio.
The cars that drove by on the road had all sorts of people his age.
There was a very nice Honda civic.
The two men who had been talking on the bench got up and walked in separate directions away from the shelter. As one man walked by, Jamie barked “Hey,” as a means of comradery, not as either a hello or a goodbye. Jamie moved in to stand under the roof. It started to drizzle. There were three concert posters in the shelter that were reasonably well preserved, but the concerts they advertised had already happened. Someone wrote in sharpie, [I miss her but she is no good for me.] The same person seemed to be responsible for the other sharpie message that said, [Don’t settle, you deserve the best.] The man named Jamie reflected. His heart was functioning alright, caught more on the cloudy Now than the rigid darts seeming to occur in his mind psychologically after his lungs or heart felt something bodily and he wondered how in fact this could be something like a stomach lotus.
Another woman came down the street. She was pretty and full-chested. The man Jamie did not hate himself for her being attractive like he felt for years when the popular media tried to emasculate men of his generation, hovering there, inevitably, like an angel of death.
Jamie called his grandmother. Next, Jamie called a great uncle. The message on the answering machine was left by his great uncle’s dead wife who could still be heard on the recording saying, “We’re not here.”
Life was beautiful and all-around Jamie as he continued to wait for bus 6.
There were fresh purple tulips in the mulch on the edge of the institution.
There was a construction site nearby where a police officer was standing over men digging a hole, shifting their weight with shovels and white helmets. Jamie was standing outside, too. He was standing outside, waiting for the bus. It was not part of his civic duty he got paid for, but it was still his civic duty.
He checked his phone again. To his dismay, bus 6 was supposed to have already arrived. He walked a little, then walked all the way to the other bus stop – the one for bus 3. He stood in the shadow of the lamppost. There was a man who was sitting on the stairs across the street eating unidentified, crumbly food from a yellow bag. The man would continue to eat whatever it was at an extremely slow rate the whole time Jamie waited. Alas, bus 6 did come at the other bus stop, but Jamie was too far away. He saw it driving by the bus stop, away from the graffiti bench where no one had been waiting, and past the temple. Jamie cursed the whole city bus business and thought ‘All the bus drivers need watches.’
At last, a public bus came. The front of the bus lined up with the mailbox on the sidewalk. Jamie went onto the bus and sat in the back row and wondered what it said about him as a person that he was often drawn to the back of buses. He took out a book. He started reading the book. It was a good-sized novel and he thought it was actually pretty peculiar how he was an avid reader of books in a country where a 2022 survey says, “50% of adults read at least one paper book a year.”
Bus 3 was soon driving.
It passed the traditional-looking family houses.
Jamie noticed two men his age sitting outside of a café. He realized old people one sees sitting outside of cafés like old friends had to start their lifelong friendship on some day. Jamie noticed a man in a wheelchair throw up his hand as he wheeled alongside the bus. He was summoning the bus to stop. Jamie thought to welcome the stranger onboard somehow. He believed for himself interactions were mental rather than verbal, so Jamie smiling at his book was the best he could do.
The man wheeled to the front.
The bus driver put down a ramp from the front to the sidewalk, where one walks on for free. The bus driver got up to help the man on. Jamie could not tell if the bus driver was aggravated by having to do this or not, but acknowledged it was the bus driver who was physically doing it.
The man in a wheelchair came onto the bus. He sat in the middle of the bus where there was room for handicap folk.
The bus drove on. The message on the bus, as he orchestrated it, was that all people were different, in fact, and that the plight of no group was as great as that of the individual Jesus Christ. It took some wiggling around on the seats from all the people, but passenger after passenger the bus remained feeling empty, without tension. Tomorrow, Jamie would be standing outside again, waiting for another bus. Bus 3 went down Highland Street. It went up a hill and picked up a woman at a random post. Then the bus turned left down a hill. It aimed for a downtown stop aside City Hall. Jamie pulled the yellow chord aside him in advance. Earlier, on his side of the city, he had waited for bus 3 at the wrong spot first thing in the morning. It drove by him standing at the wrong intersection. Jamie had missed three buses in one day. Jamie’s stop came. He stood up on his own two legs, and with a hop, skip, and a jump, he got off the bus.
Tomorrow, Jamie would know where to wait for the bus.
He went inside and listened to that song by The Smiths about going home while you still have a home.
He noticed people waving laundry out their windows four hundred feet away like flags of surrender.
Jamie felt free.
Lead image: Bus stop on Grafton Street in Worcester/ThisWeekinWorcester.com