One Way ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
There she was, Mrs. Velda Millis, age seventy-eight, taking a bus trip on her own. Her hairdo was beauty-parlor fresh and she was wearing a new dress, bought on sale for the occasion. She had her purse, her ticket and her suitcase and was wearing her comfortable shoes. All she had to do was sit and wait for her bus.
The bus station scared her a little. It was too big, there were too many people moving too fast, too much noise. The noise alone set her on edge; every time an announcement was blatted over the loudspeaker, she jumped as if a gun had been fired behind her head. When a woman with a screaming baby sat down near her, she got up and moved to a different seat farther away.
She watched the minutes ticking away on a clock high up on the wall until her vision blurred. She was bored and wasn’t used to being bored. How did people stand to wait for hours in such a place?
Her hand started to cramp and when she looked down she realized she was holding onto her ticket for dear life. She wouldn’t need the ticket until time to board the bus. She slipped it into her purse and massaged her thumb. “Calm down,” she told herself. “You’re going to make it through this.”
Her daughter, Teresa, had given her the ticket and some instructions. What were they? Oh, yes, she was supposed to wait until two-fifteen (or was it three-thirty?) and then make her way over to gate five (or was it gate three?) and wait there until they announced over the loudspeaker that she could get on board. She hoped the announcement was in English. If it was in any other language, she wouldn’t know what they were saying.
It was only eleven-thirty. She still had hours to go. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths and thought about her son’s house where she was going to live.
Julian was a successful businessman and had a large house with an upstairs where she could have her own room. She would make herself useful by helping Susie, Julian’s wife, with the housework and by minding the two kids. She hardly even knew her grandchildren and was looking forward to getting acquainted.
She had lived with Teresa for the last two years and Teresa didn’t want her anymore. They got on each other’s nerves and had taken to quarreling over little things. She realized for the first time that she didn’t like Teresa very much and that the feeling was mutual. After one of their fights that lasted several days, Teresa told her she wanted her out of her house and was going to put her in a nursing home. Teresa had a long conversation with her brother Julian that night on the phone, the upshot of which was that they were going to put mama on a bus and send her to him.
“It’s your turn to deal with her,” Teresa had said to him with mama sitting right there. “I’m at the end of my tether. Maybe you can talk some sense into her.”
“Talk some sense into me about what?” she asked when Teresa hung up the phone.
“None of your business!” Teresa snapped. “Oh, to have some privacy again in my own home!”
When Teresa presented her with the bus ticket, she saw right away that it was marked One Way. She was going away from her home and never coming back.
When she was realistic and looked the facts in the face, she knew she wasn’t going to have her own room at Julian’s place and be able to help with the housework and the children. Telling her that was just a trick, she saw now. Julian and Susie would be there to take her off the bus, all right, but they would then whisk her off to one of those places where blank-eyed old people sit in chairs and wait to die, forced to surrender control of their lives to absolute strangers. She was not to be given any choice in the matter.
Now that she knew what they were going to do to her, wasn’t it her last chance to escape? She didn’t have to get on that bus, just because snooty Teresa had bought her a ticket. There was something else she could do.
She picked up her suitcase that sat at her feet and opened it. Underneath the clothes were her Bible and a bulky manila envelope. These were the things that gave her strength and comfort: the Bible because the words in it sustained her in times of trouble and the envelope because it contained one hundred and eighty one-hundred-dollar bills. (She had counted them over and over.)
She found the money in the bottom of one of Teresa’s dresser drawers when she was cleaning and took it as her own. Teresa would say she stole it, of course, while she maintained it was money due her. For what? For keeping herself from slapping Teresa across the room all the times she had wanted to.
Having decided she wasn’t going to take that bus, she couldn’t stand being in the bus station another minute. She went outside, finding herself on an unknown city sidewalk. She followed her nose, as the saying goes, to the old Windsor hotel, which sparked some memories for her of long ago. She went inside and engaged a room, registering under the name of Ann Harding, the name of a long-ago movie actress. Nobody would ever know it was her.
After she was shown to a room by a dwarfish bellboy, she kicked off her shoes and called room service and ordered a steak sandwich and a bottle of beer. When the boy came with her order, she tipped him generously. She had money and money will take you a long way in this world.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp