You’re Going on a Trip ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The bus station was noisy and crowded. Bernice stopped just inside the door with Mrs. Greenstead, looking for a place to go. On the far side of the room, a man and a woman were just vacating chairs. Bernice pulled Mrs. Greenstead by the arm, quickly, to get to the chairs before somebody else did.
Mrs. Greenstead didn’t know what was happening. Bernice turned her around and backed her up to the empty chair and then, taking her by both hands, bade her sit. Once in the chair, Mrs. Greenstead swiveled her head from left to right. “What is this place?” she asked. “Are we here to see the doctor?”
“We’re in the bus station, mother!” Bernice said loudly, sitting down beside her.
“Are we going on a trip?”
“You’re going on a trip. I’m staying at home.”
“I don’t want to go. I think I forget to turn off the stove.”
“No, mother, the stove is fine. I checked it before we left.”
“I don’t feel like riding on a bus. I’m going to be sick.”
“I gave you Dramamine. Don’t you remember? That’s supposed to keep you from getting car sick.”
“You can doze on the bus and in a couple of hours you’ll be there and Warren and Velma will meet you.”
“You can take a little nap and be there in no time.”
“What if I don’t want to go?”
“You don’t want to disappoint Warren and Velma, do you? They’re expecting you.”
“Call and tell them I’m not coming.”
“Now, you just sit right here and don’t get up. I’ll go get your ticket.”
“Can you hurry it up a little? I don’t want to miss that train.”
“It’s a bus, mother, and you’re not going to miss it.”
After what seemed to Mrs. Greenstead a very long time, Bernice returned with the ticket.
“Here it is, mother!” she yelled. “Give it to the driver when you get on the bus.”
“What is it?”
“It’s your bus ticket! Don’t lose it! You’ll need it when you get on the bus!”
“I don’t want to go. I want to stay home.”
“Now, your suitcase is right beside your feet. Keep an eye on it because people steal things in bus stations. Your money is in it and your identification.”
“We want people to know who you are in case you get lost.”
“I won’t get lost.”
“There’s your ticket in your right hand. Your suitcase is on the floor beside your feet. Don’t let the ticket or the suitcase out of your sight. If you need to go to the toilet, take them with you. Don’t leave them here. Somebody will steal them.”
“I won’t get lost.”
“Well, goodbye, mother. I hope you have a wonderful time.”
Mrs. Greenstead was glad when Bernice left. She never did like being bossed and fussed over.
What was she supposed to be doing, now? Wait for something and then get on a bus and go somewhere. Wait a minute, though. Wouldn’t there be more than one bus? How was she to know which bus? Bernice had a way of making things more complicated than they needed to be. Always so many words.
She wanted an ice cream cone and looked around from her chair for a place where she might buy one but saw nothing. She had the money to buy one—she knew she did—but there was no ice cream cone to be had. She’d have to get up and go outside to find a place and she wasn’t supposed to do that. She was supposed to wait in her seat until something. Until what? She couldn’t remember.
She forgot for the moment about the ice cream cone. An enormously fat man walked in front of her, moving with the ponderous and deliberate slowness of an elephant. She was sure she had never seen so fat a man. He wore a long coat that might at one time have been used as a parachute. He found a place to sit; the chair upon which he sat nearly disappeared beneath his girth.
The loudspeaker rumbled and crackled announcing arrivals and departures. To Mrs. Greenstead, it might have been in an obscure foreign tongue. She didn’t know how anybody could know what was being said. She looked around for somebody who might help her, but the people near her didn’t see her. She didn’t exist.
A small girl screamed and her mother jerked her by the arm, knocking her off her feet. She didn’t fall all the way to the floor, though, because the mother kept hold of her arm. The girl screeched like an animal, dangling in a horizontal position just inches from the floor. She started crying and the mother pulled her upright and clapped her soundly on the side of the head, which made her cry even louder.
A pair of nuns came into view and Mrs. Greenstead gawped at them in fascination, as at a species of penguin. The nuns’ faces were hard and sour and they seemed to be arguing, but quietly. The skirts of their black gowns swept the filthy floor. They took seats and continued moving their mouths, consumed in their arguing.
More interesting than the nuns was a pair of husband and wife midgets. They were the size of children but dressed in adult clothes. The woman wore a white dress with puff sleeves and carried a handbag over her arm. Her face was sweet but freakish and mask-like because of the disproportionate size of her head. The man was dressed in a suit and hat and smoked a cigarette. He looked like a tiny businessman. The woman nearly lost her balance when someone ran into her. The man laughed at her and took hold of her arm to steady her. Mrs. Greenstead watched until they were out of sight.
Finally she grew restless with the waiting and began wondering if it wasn’t about time for her to get on the bus. The voice on the loudspeaker came again, but not a word of it was to be understood.
She was on the verge of getting up, when a large woman with a girl of about eleven approached her. The woman sat in the chair to her left and the girl to her right. Mrs. Greenstead looked from one to the other.
“Anything the matter, honey?” the woman asked. “You look a little bewildered.”
Finally a kind word! Mrs. Greenstead could have wept. She handed the woman her ticket. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do,” she said piteously.
The woman looked at the ticket and then looked at the clock. “You got about seven minutes before your bus leaves,” she said.
“Seven minutes!” Mrs. Greenstead said. “That’s not much time!”
“You’ve still got time,” the woman said. “You need to take it slow and easy. Take your time. We don’t want to fall down, now, do we?”
“Can you show me where to go?”
“Of course I can, honey!” the woman said.
She helped Mrs. Greenstead up and they had taken only a few steps when Mrs. Greenstead remembered her suitcase. She started to go back to get it, but the girl had picked it up for her.
“Now, which way do we go?” Mrs. Greenstead asked.
“The busses board over there, honey,” the woman said.
“Where’s my suitcase?”
“Gina’s got it, honey. She’s right behind us.”
“It’s got my money in it and all my valuables. My medicine, too.”
As they passed the restrooms, Mrs. Greenstead remembered that she needed to make a stop there before she got on the bus. Once in her seat on the bus, she wasn’t getting up again.
When the woman realized Mrs. Greenstead’s intention, she said, “You’d better make it quick, honey. They called your bus a few minutes ago.”
“Won’t be a minute.”
“Me and Gina will wait right here for you,” the woman said. “Right outside the door.”
Mrs. Greenstead hated using a public toilet, but sometimes she had no other choice. She did what she had to do as fast as she could and washed her hands thoroughly.
When she exited the toilet, the large woman and the girl were not waiting by the door. They were not among the dozens of strangers walking, talking, sitting or loitering within the radius of a few yards.
Maybe they’ll be right back, Mrs. Greenstead thought. They only stepped away for a minute to buy a newspaper or get a drink of water.
She stood by the door of the ladies’ toilet for a few minutes and when the large woman and the girl didn’t reappear, she knew the worst of it. She had been robbed. Her money, her clothes, her bus ticket, her precious Bible. Everything!
When she approached the man who swept the floor and emptied the trashcans and told him what had happened, he told her she needed to report it to the office.
“Report it to the office?” she asked, not sure if she understood the meaning of the phrase.
Making her way to the door, she went out onto the sidewalk. It was the middle of the afternoon and glaringly hot. She looked one way and then the other. Both ways looked the same. She set off walking in the direction away from the sun.
After she had walked a couple of blocks, a filthy-looking bum approached and asked for a dollar.
“No!” she snapped. “I don’t even have money for an ice cream cone!”
She continued walking. When she came to a hotel with a smudged plate glass window, she went into the lobby that, though squalid, was much cooler than the street.
“I’m looking for someone,” she said to the desk clerk. “A fat woman with a moon face and a little girl of about eleven or so.”
The clerk smiled. He himself was fat with thinning blond hair combed back from his forehead.
“That sounds like Toots Gottlieb and her daughter,” he said. “The daughter may look eleven but she’s really twenty-seven. There’s something wrong with her to make her look that way.”
“Is the girl’s name Gina?”
“That’s the one!”
“Can you tell me where I might find her?”
“She robbed you at the bus station, didn’t she? Took your purse?”
“Suitcase. How did you know?”
“It’s what she does.”
“Where can I find her? I need to get my suitcase back.”
The clerk picked up a phone. “Hello, is this Toots?” he said. “There’s a lady in the lobby wants to speak with you. Says you took her suitcase at the bus station. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think so. Well, you’d better give it back or the lady is going to call the police. She’s plenty mad. She’s willing to pay a twenty-five-dollar reward, though, for the return of her property.”
When he hung up the phone, he was laughing. “Toots is indisposed,” he said. “If you’ll give me the fifty dollars now, I’ll go up and get your suitcase for you and you can be on your way.”
“You said twenty-five.”
“The price of the reward has just gone up.”
“I have no money,” Mrs. Greenstead said. “It was all in my suitcase.”
“Nothing in your pockets?”
“Only a handkerchief.”
“How about a watch or a ring or a bracelet?”
“In that case, I’m afraid we can’t help you. Move on, please. We’re awfully busy here.”
She left then, back out into the heat and glare of the sidewalk. A couple of blocks past the hotel, she heard the wailing siren of an ambulance. She waved her handkerchief but it just kept going. She heard someone laugh then and, turning, saw the bum who had asked her for a dollar.
“Did you see a big fat woman with a girl who looks about eleven but is really twenty-seven?” she asked. “The fat woman would have been carrying a suitcase. The suitcase belongs to me.”
“I don’t speak no English,” the bum said, but she knew it too was a lie.
She kept walking back the way she had come, toward the bus station. She knew after a few steps that the bum was following her closely. When she felt him touch her somewhere around the upper back, she twitched her elbow as if at a pesky insect. When the bum laughed she turned and confronted him.
“What do you want from me?” she said. “I already told you I don’t have any money!”
The bum smiled, showing stained teeth. “It’s all right,” he said. “You seem like nice lady. I take you anyplace you want. Five dollar.”
She looked around and, seeing nothing, said, “You have a car?”
“Hell, no, ain’t got no car!” he said.
He took hold of her arm at the elbow. She resisted but when he didn’t let go she had no other choice but to submit herself to his touch.
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“Everybody know me,” he said. “Take you anyplace you want go. Only five dollar.”
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp