You’re Going on a Trip ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a repost.)
The bus station was noisy and crowded. Leona stopped just inside the door with Mrs. Esplen, looking for a place to go. On the far side of the room against the wall, a man and a woman were just vacating chairs. Leona pulled Mrs. Esplen by the arm, quickly, to get to the chairs before somebody else got them.
Leona backed Mrs. Esplen up to the empty chair and then, taking both her hands, gave her a little push to get her to sit. Once in the chair, Mrs. Esplen turned her head from side to side confusedly. “What is this place?” she asked. “Are we here to see the doctor?”
“We’re in the bus station, mother!” Leona shouted, sitting down beside her.
“Are we going on a trip?”
“You’re going on a trip. I’m staying home.”
“I don’t want to go. I get sick on the bus.”
“I gave you Dramamine so you won’t get sick this time. Don’t you remember?”
“You gave me something but I didn’t know what it was.”
“The Dramamine will make you drowsy. After you take your seat on the bus, you can take a little nap and in a couple of hours you’ll be there and Warren and Minnie will take you off the bus.”
“What if I don’t want to go?”
“You don’t want to disappoint Warren and Minnie, do you? They’re expecting you.”
“Call them and tell them I won’t be there.”
“Now, you just sit right here and don’t get up. I’ll go and buy your ticket.”
With Leona gone, Mrs. Esplen began to enjoy herself a little. She always did like sitting back in a detached sort of way and watching people from afar. All too soon, though, Leona was back, punishing her ear drums with her squawking voice.
“Here’s your ticket, mother!” she said. “Give it to the driver when you get on the bus.”
“Can you please tell me where I’m supposed to be going?”
“You’re going to visit your nephew Warren and his wife Minnie. Don’t you remember them? They live on a farm with all the cows and chickens? You’re going to have a lovely visit!”
“I don’t want to go. I’m going to be sick.”
“Now, you’re holding 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.”
“Don’t you think I know that?”
“Listen to the voice on the loudspeaker. When your bus is announced, you get up and go through those doors over there where all those people are. Your destination is printed at the top of your ticket. If you get confused, just show somebody your ticket and they’ll tell you where to go. Do you understand?”
“Of course, I understand. What do you take me for?”
“Good. Well, then, I guess that’s everything. I know you’re going to have a wonderful time!”
Mrs. Esplen watched Leona until she was out of sight. When she realized she was alone in a crowded, strange place, she began to feel a little frightened. What was it she was supposed to be doing, now? Going on a trip? She was supposed to get on a bus? Yes, but how would she know which bus? With Leona, nothing was ever clear. She always had a way of making things more complicated than they needed to be.
While she was waiting, she couldn’t remember if she’d had anything to eat or not. She wanted an ice cream cone. Looking around from her sitting position over the heads of all the people, she saw nothing that looked like a place to get an ice cream cone. If she wanted it badly enough, she’d have to get up and go outside to find the right kind of place and she wasn’t supposed to do that. What was it she was supposed to be doing? She was supposed to wait in her seat until something. Until what? Oh, yes. Wait for her bus to be announced.
She forgot for the moment about the ice cream cone. A fat man walked in front of her, moving ponderously like an elephant making its way through the underbrush in the jungle. She was moved by the sight of the fat man because she was sure she had never seen anyone so fat before. He wore a black, fat-man’s suit that was all rumpled as if he had slept in it. He sat down on a bench—she was sure it creaked but she was too far away to hear—and, with a sad look on his face, took a hanky out of his pocket and wiped his face, starting at the topping and working his way down to his bulbous chin.
The loudspeaker rumbled and crackled announcing arrivals and departures. Mrs. Esplen wasn’t able to understand a word of it. It sounded like German or one of those guttural foreign languages. She looked around for somebody who might help her, but nobody was paying any attention. She might as well have been invisible.
A small girl screamed and her mother jerked her by the arm, knocking her off her feet, where she dangled in a horizontal position just inches from the floor. When her crying became louder, the mother pulled her upright and clapped her soundly on the side of the head. The crying became gasping shrieks.
A pair of nuns came into view and Mrs. Esplen couldn’t take her eyes off them. The skirts of their black gowns swept the filthy floor. They were talking animatedly, maybe arguing, their mouths moving together as if they were singing a song. When they sat down, one of them stopped talking long enough to light a cigarette and blow out a big cloud of smoke.
Just then, a couple of midgets came by and attracted Mrs. Esplen’s attention away from the nuns. Oh, but she loved midgets! These two were obviously husband and wife, child-sized but dressed in adult clothes. The wife’s face was pleasant but freakish and mask-like because of the disproportionate size of her head. The man had the appearance of a tiny businessman; he wore a dark suit and a fedora and smoked a cigar. The lady midget lost her balance and nearly fell when a man carrying suitcases ran into her. The husband laughed and grabbed ahold to keep her from falling. Mrs. Esplen watched them with fascination until they were out of sight. She could watch them all day.
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 could she understand.
She was on the verge of getting up, when a fat woman with a broad face like an owl and a girl of about twelve approached her. The woman sat in the chair to her left and the girl to her right. Mrs. Esplen looked from one to the other.
“Anything the matter, honey?” the fat woman asked. “We ain’t lost, are we?”
Mrs. Esplen felt so grateful for a kind word from a stranger she could have wept. She handed the fat woman her ticket. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do!” she said.
The fat woman looked at the ticket and then at the clock. “You got about seven minutes before your bus leaves,” she said.
“Seven minutes! That’s not much time!”
“You need to take it slow and easy, though, honey. Take your time. We don’t want to fall down, now, do we?”
“Can you show me where I’m supposed to go?”
“Of course I can!” the fat woman said.
She helped Mrs. Esplen up; they took a few steps before Mrs. Esplen remembered her suitcase. She started to go back and get it, but the young girl picked it up for her with a smile.
“Now, which way do we go?” she asked.
“The busses are over there, honey,” the fat woman said. “Where all those doors are.”
“I need my suitcase!”
“Tiny’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. Esplen stopped and pointed toward the door, as if waiting for the fat woman to tell her what to do.
“You got to go, honey?” the fat woman asked her.
“I haven’t gone all day.”
“Okay, but you’ll have to be quick. Your bus is about to leave.”
“Won’t be a minute.”
“Me and Tiny’ll wait right here for you. Right outside the door with your suitcase.”
Mrs. Esplen went inside the ladies’ restroom, did what she had to do as fast as she could, washed her hands thoroughly to kill any germs she might have picked up, and went out again. When she saw that the fat woman and the girl weren’t waiting by the door as they said, she looked one way and then the other way but didn’t see them.
She continued to stand by the door for a few minutes longer and then she knew what they had done. They robbed her of 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.
“I don’t know where the office is,” she said tearfully, but the man had moved on with his broom and didn’t hear her.
Not knowing what else to do, she found the door that she and Leona had come through all those hours ago and went out onto the sidewalk. It was the middle of the afternoon and glaringly hot. Since one way looked the same as the other, she began walking in the direction away from the sun.
There were only low brick buildings along the street, some of them boarded up. She passed a liquor store, a used-car lot, a coin laundry, a dry cleaner and a place that sold plumbing supplies. A man in a filthy coat stepped out of an alleyway, startling her, and asked her for a dollar.
“No!” she snapped. “I don’t have a dollar. I don’t even have the money to buy myself an ice cream cone!”
She kept walking. When she came to a hotel with a smudged plate glass window, she went into a 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 big face like an owl and a girl of about twelve or so.”
The clerk himself was fat. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and a porkpie hat perched on the back of his enormous head. “That would be Peachy Kane and Tiny,” he said.
“She didn’t tell me her name, but Tiny is the name she called the girl. I’m sure those are the same ones.”
“You met them at the bus station, I’ll bet, didn’t you?”
“How did you know?”
“They work as a team at the bus station.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“That girl that you think is about twelve years old? That girl called Tiny?”
“She’s really thirty-seven. There’s something wrong with her that makes her look so young.”
He laughed. “Suppose you just tell me what happened at the bus station.”
“We started talking and when I excused myself to go to the ladies’ restroom, they stole my suitcase with all my money and belongings in it.”
“That is a shame, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what to do now. My daughter left me and I was supposed to get on the bus to go visit my nephew and now I’ve missed my bus and I just don’t know what to do.”
“Well, I think I might be able to help you,” the clerk said.
“Just hold on a minute.”
He smiled and picked up a phone and spoke loudly into it as though it were an overseas connection.
“Hello, is this the fabulous Miss Peachy? There’s a lady in the lobby wants to speak to you. She’s pretty upset. She says you took her suitcase at the bus station. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think so. If you don’t give it back, and pronto, she’s going to call the police. She’s willing to pay a twenty-five-dollar reward, though, if you return her property without further delay.”
He hung up the phone and looked at Mrs. Esplen.
“Peachy is indisposed at the moment,” 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.”
“Well, I have to make a little something on the deal, don’t I?”
Mrs. Esplen began to cry, feeling utterly defeated. “I don’t have any money,” she sobbed. “My money was in the suitcase that was stolen.”
“Don’t you have anything in your pockets?”
“Only a handkerchief.”
“Are you wearing a watch, a ring or a bracelet?”
“No, nothing like that.”
“In that case, I’m afraid we can’t help you.”
“Is that woman who stole my suitcase in this hotel? Maybe if I talk to her and tell her my situation, she’ll give me back my property.”
“I may as well tell you, lady, in case you don’t already know, thieves aren’t moved by sympathy. It doesn’t matter what you say to them, all they care about is what they can get out of you.”
“If you would just tell me what room she’s in?”
“No! Now, look! I’ve already said I can’t help you! You need to be on your way because we’re awfully busy here.”
She went back outside then and kept walking, not knowing what else to do. A couple of blocks past the hotel, she heard a wailing siren and turned and saw an ambulance barreling toward her. She began waving her handkerchief at the ambulance, but it kept on going past her. She heard someone laugh then and, turning, saw the man in the dirty coat who had earlier asked her for a dollar.
“Did you see a big fat woman with a girl who looks about twelve but is really thirty-seven?” she asked. “The fat woman would be carrying a suitcase. The suitcase belongs to me.”
“I don’t speak no English,” the bum said.
“I’ll bet you speak English when it suits you,” she said.
She turned around and started walking back the way she had come, toward the bus station. She knew somebody was following closely behind her and, turning, she saw the dirty coat. She started walking a little faster but knew she wouldn’t be able to get away with the little strength she had left.
“I said I don’t have any money!” she said.
The man laughed again and came around beside her and began walking in step with her. She wouldn’t look at him, but when she started to flag and sink toward the sidewalk, he took hold of her arm and steadied her.
“Take you any place you want to go,” he said. “Only five dollar.”
“I’ve already told you I don’t have any money!”
“Take you any place you want to go.”
She stopped and looked around and he stopped, too. “Where’s your car?” she asked. “I don’t see any car.”
“Yes. Don’t you have a car?”
“Hell, no! Ain’t got no car!”
“Well, then, how…”
She saw then that it wasn’t any use. He wasn’t much but he was all she had at the moment. She leaned more heavily on him and looked at his face, trying to find something about him that she might like.
“I’ve had a terrible day,” she said. “I should have stayed in bed this morning.”
“Take you any place you want to go.”
“Yes,” she said. “Very comforting, I’m sure.”
“Only five dollar.”
He gripped her arm to keep her from falling and they kept walking. Soon she was leaning her head on his shoulder, not minding the smell so much.
“If I could only sit down for a while,” she said. “Rest my feet.”
“I know good place,” he said. “For rest. Not too much farther. Just a little bit more. Almost there.”
“You’re so kind,” she said. “I wish we had met sooner.”
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp