Buses Boarding in Blue Letters ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is a re-post.)
The bus station was smoky, noisy, crowded. All the seats were taken. Ada Bloodsaw held her mother, Mrs. Bloodsaw, by the hand, looking for a place to sit down. On the far side of the room against the wall, a man and a woman were just vacating chairs. Ada pulled Mrs. Bloodsaw by the arm, quickly, to get to the chairs before somebody else got them.
Ada backed Mrs. Bloodsaw up to the empty chair and then, taking both her hands, gave her a little push to get her to sit. Mrs. Bloodsaw sat obediently, grappling for her little suitcase. “What is this place?” she asked. “Are we here to see the doctor?”
“We’re in the bus station!” Ada shouted, sitting down beside her.
“Are we going on a trip?”
“You’re going on a trip. I’m staying home.”
“What if I don’t want to go?”
“Now, mother, we’ve been all through this. 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.”
“Sit right there and don’t get up. I’ll go and buy your ticket.”
There was a long line at the ticket counter. Ada stood in the line for about fifteen minutes. It was taking so long that Mrs. Bloodsaw hoped that Ada would give up and drop out of the line and they could go back home, but this, of course, is not what happened. Ada came back with the ticket in her hand and sat down in the chair beside Mrs. Bloodsaw.
“I don’t know why there are so many people here today,” Ada complained. “Maybe you should have gone on the train instead.”
“I don’t want to go,” Mrs. Bloodsaw said meekly.
“Now, here’s your ticket,” Ada said. “Keep track of it. Don’t let it out of your sight. Give it to the driver when you get on the bus.”
“I think I’m going to be sick. I think I’m having a heart attack. Maybe a stroke.”
“Remember now, your suitcase is on the floor by your feet. Don’t let it out of your sight. If you have to go to the toilet, take it with you. People steal things in bus stations.”
“Why do they do that?”
“Listen for the voice on the loudspeaker. When your bus is announced, you get up and go through that door over there where it says Buses Boarding in blue letters. Can you remember that?”
“Buses boarding in blue letters.”
“Yes! Listen for the voice on the loudspeaker!”
“I heard you!”
“Good! Well, then, I guess that’s everything. I know you’re going to have a wonderful time!”
As always, Mrs. Bloodsaw was relieved by Ada’s departure. She didn’t like being bossed, made to feel incompetent. One can only take so much bullying from other people, even if they are one’s own family.
Left on her own, Mrs. Bloodsaw enjoyed watching people. They were always so different from oneself, so unexpected. There was a fat man over there, surely one of the fattest men in the history of fat men. He made his way through the throng with tiny steps like an elephant. The black coat he wore was like a tent. He sat down on a bench and wiped his face with a handkerchief. Even from across the room, anybody could see he was out of breath and not well. It must have been a tremendous effort just to carry that gargantuan body around.
A pair of nuns came in. Their long black dresses swept the floor. They were looking for a place to sit but at the moment were out of luck. They had hard, sour faces; they appeared to be arguing. They found a spot on a bench that was hardly big enough for one person and sat down together in the compact space, appearing from a distance to be a creature with two frightening heads. One of them lit a cigarette, baring ugly yellow teeth, and they passed the cigarette back and forth until they finished with it and threw it on the floor.
The voice on the loudspeaker rumbled unexpectedly, causing Mrs. Bloodsaw to jump and emit a tiny scream. She wasn’t able to understand a word that was said. It might as well have been Chinese or Hungarian.
The terrible voice on the loudspeaker was displaced by another jarring sound. 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. The mother pulled her upright and clapped her soundly on the side of the head. The screaming turned to gasping shrieks.
The screaming girl and her mother were absorbed into the crowd and in their place was a pair of midgets, a man and a woman. They were the size of eight-year-old children, 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 wore a dark suit and a fedora and smoked a cigar, like a little boy playing grownup businessman. When a man carrying suitcases nearly collided with the midgets, the lady midget nearly lost her balance, but the man midget laughed and grabbed onto her to keep her from falling. How sweet they were and how precious. They were as good as any show. Mrs. Bloodsaw could have watched them all day and all night.
Again the voice came on the loudspeaker, scaring Mrs. Bloodsaw out of her wits. She leaned forward and tilted her head to one side to give herself a better chance of hearing the voice, but again she was not able to make out a single word. Now she was getting worried. How was she supposed to know when they announced her bus?
She looked around for somebody who might help her and when she saw not a single person who might be the least bit sympathetic, the tears came unbidden to her eyes. She was lost and in trouble.
She was about to get up when a fat woman and a young girl approached her. The fat woman wore a maroon-colored turban that made her look foreign and exotic and the girl had protuberant eyes like a frog. The woman sat on Mrs. Bloodsaw’s right and the girl with the frog eyes sat on her left.
“Anything wrong, honey?” the fat woman in the turban asked.
“I don’t know what’s happened to the bus I was supposed to take,” Mrs. Bloodsaw said pitifully. “It might have already left.”
“You got a ticket?”
The woman looked at the writing on the ticket and then at the clock. “You got about three minutes before your bus leaves,” she said.
“Three minutes! That’s not much time!”
“Do you know where to go?”
“My daughter said something about ‘buses boarding in blue letters’ but I didn’t know what she was meant.”
“Do you want me to show you where to go?”
“Would you, honey?”
“Of course, I will! Better hurry, though! You ain’t got much time.”
She helped Mrs. Bloodsaw to her feet. They had taken only a couple of steps when Mrs. Bloodsaw remembered her suitcase. “It’s got my money in it and my Bible and all my valuables,” she said. “People steal things in bus stations.”
“Don’t worry, honey,” the fat woman said. “Greta’s got it.”
“My daughter. She’s right behind us.’
On the way to the buses, Mrs. Bloodsaw remembered she would never be able to ride on the bus without first paying a call at the ladies’ room. She looked in the fat woman’s face and gestured toward the door.
“All right,” the fat woman said, “but you’ll have to make it quick. Me and Greta’ll wait right here for you. Right outside the door.”
Mrs. Bloodsaw did what she went to do, washed her hands thoroughly in plenty of hot water to kill any germs, and when she went outside the door of the ladies’ room, where the fat woman and her daughter were supposed to be waiting, they were gone.
“I’ve been robbed!” she said, after she had a few seconds to absorb what had happened. “That awful, foreign, fat woman took my suitcase! Oh, what am I going to do now? It had all my money in it and my clothes and my Bible and everything.”
Several people looked at her and then looked away. Nobody was inclined to help her, though. They all had troubles of their own.
“Oh, oh, oh!” she said.
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.
She walked around among the crowds of people for ten or fifteen minutes and, realizing she was doing no good and not knowing what else to do, she found the door to the street and went outside.
It was the middle of the afternoon. The sunlight blinded her. She looked one way and then the other, shading her eyes with her handkerchief. Both ways looked the same. She began walking to the right for no other reason than it seemed more promising than the left.
It was a street of old brick buildings. She saw nothing she recognized; it might as well have been a foreign country or the planet Mars. Some of the buildings were empty with papers covering the windows. What kind of a place was she in? Why did the bus station have to be in a slum?
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’ve been robbed of all my money!”
She started crying again but kept walking, afraid to stay in one place too long. In the next block she came to an old hotel with a smudged plate-glass window. The old-fashioned lobby with its sofas, chairs and potted palms looked inviting in a way, so she went inside.
“I’m looking for someone,” she said to the desk clerk. “A fat woman in a turban and a girl of about twelve or so. The girl’s name is Greta, I believe.”
The clerk laughed. “That would be Lucille Allgood and Greta Goode. They took you at the bus station, didn’t they?”
“They’re a couple of crooks. They make you think they’re trying to help you and then they steal your property.
“Do you know where I can find them?”
“Maybe, but it’s gonna cost you.”
“They took all my money!”
“You don’t have any reward money to pay for the return of your property?”
“You don’t have a watch or a bracelet or a diamond brooch or anything like that?”
“I don’t wear jewelry.”
“I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to help you, then.”
“You can’t get something for nothing, I’m afraid. Not here.”
“If I could just talk to them and explain I’m old and all alone. I’m on my way to visit my nephew in another state and…”
“I don’t think it’d do any good. Not if you ain’t got any money.”
“Are they staying here? In this hotel?”
“Now, lady, just think about it. I can’t divulge information about our guests, don’t you see? It’s a question of ethics.”
“If you’d just…”
“Sorry I can’t be of help to you, miss. You have a good afternoon, now.”
She went back outside then and kept walking, not back toward the bus station but in the other direction. A couple of blocks past the hotel, she heard a wailing siren and turned and saw an ambulance coming very fast toward her. She waved her handkerchief at the ambulance, believing it would stop for her to see what was wrong, but it kept going as if she wasn’t even there. 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 in a turban and a young girl?” she asked the man. “They stole my suitcase.”
“Don’t speak no English,” he said.
“I’ll bet you speak English when you want to!”
“Maybe I see them. Maybe not.”
“I’m in no mood to play games,” she said and kept walking.
“No, wait a minute, lady! I take you. I take you any place you want to go. Only five dollar.”
“I don’t have any money,” she said. “It was all stolen.”
“Take you any place you want to go.”
“I can’t pay you.”
“Big fat woman with thing on her head. I think I know where you find her.”
“Just tell me where.”
“No. I take you. Only five dollar.”
Mrs. Bloodsaw looked around. “How can you take me anywhere?” she asked. “Where’s your car? Don’t you have a car?”
“Hell no! Ain’t got no car!”
“I’m not going to stand here all day talking nonsense with you. Just leave me alone!”
She began walking faster to get away from the man, but she was having pains in her chest and her legs felt weak.
“It has just been an awful day!” she sobbed.
She turned around and started walking back the way she had come, toward the bus station. She knew the man in the dirty coat was following closely behind her, but she planned on ignoring him, swat him away like a fly if she had to.
“I told you to leave me alone!” she said. “I don’t have any money! Don’t you understand that?”
The man, laughing, began walking closely beside her, taking hold of her arm, obviously enjoying himself.
“You nice lady,” he said. “I wish you was my mother.”
She stumbled and he steadied her, kept her from falling.
“I have to get my suitcase back,” she said. “It has all my money in it. If you get my suitcase back, I’ll give you a reward.”
“I think I know where fat woman is with suitcase.”
“Can you take me there?”
“Sure. Take you any place you want to go.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder, not minding the smell so much. “You’re the first person all day who has shown me any kindness.”
“I take you to fat woman with suitcase.”
“If I could only just 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. Fat woman with suitcase there.”
“You’re so kind,” she said. “If only we had met sooner.”
Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp