The curtains are shut on these windows.
After I got on the bus, I saw her and strained to remember who she was. She was watching me closely. I saw the way she glanced up at me so casually, her eyes beginning at the top of my head, and quickly scanning down my body over my suit until her gaze ended at my black dress shoes, which had a sheen to rival a newly waxed Rolls Royce. She then flicked her eyes back to the paperback book she had on her lap. I quickly looked over the other passengers, hoping to see a certain kind of face, that face that knew my situation, knew who was possibly following the bus, knew what she was. “Please find a seat or take the handrail before the bus is in motion.” I about jumped out of my skin when the driver’s voice blared through the intercom right in my ear. How could I have been so stupid? I was slipping. Everyone on the bus looked up as I quickly moved into the one seat in which I could keep a close eye on her. The spot was straight across from her and one seat to the right (her left).
Her unexpected presence had startled me momentarily but I was back in control now (she was familiar, I knew I had seen her before). The bus roared into motion, the people sitting sideways like her and I swaying back and forth a little as the bus clumsily changed out of the lower gears. I now could survey the other passengers at my leisure. I leaned back and stretched as I looked around the bus first counting everyone. There were six others riding the L.A. county transit bus from Hollywood to Manhattan Beach.
The man in the back of the bus was obviously a bum. Some wino with long greasy hair wearing a tattered olive green army field jacket and brown corduroy pants. His beard hung to his chest and looked knotted and wet. I think there was a twig or something in it. His head hung down and rocked lazily back and forth with the motion of the bus. He had a large worn brown paper bag cradled in his arms. There was a young couple sitting in forward facing seats two up on my right. The young man was blond and looked like one of those Calvin Klein models, while his pretty girlfriend had dark hair and bright blue eyes which quickly moved away when they met mine. I couldn’t blame her for looking at me. I was a handsome man and dressed very fashionably in an expensive suit and my hair was thick and black, slicked back from my forehead.
I looked at the woman who sat across from them. She was a thirty something black woman, wearing a grey business pant suit and one of those large fashionable purses (which one I couldn’t say, I don’t keep up on that sort of thing). She kept her eyes forward. Sitting near the bum in the back of the bus was a small man wearing white slacks with a matching dinner jacket and one of those cabana type hats he probably bought at Banana Republic or somewhere. He had a small pointed chin beard and kept a kerchief up around his nose and mouth as he looked over annoyingly at the bum. He would occasionally sit forward as if he was going to stand up and then sit back again.
The man sitting two seats down from me on my left, was wearing a multicolored poncho and small round blue John Lennon type sunglasses and sandals. He stank of marijuana and thumped his hands on his leg to a tune only he could hear. I noticed all of this in moments because I was observant. That’s what I was trained for.
I knew that they were probably close behind me, I had something they wanted, something they wanted badly. Who they were doesn’t matter, there was always a they, always someone who wanted something. They had done something to me, something to my memory, screwed it up somehow. I was still trying to remember what it was they wanted from me, what was it . . . some kind of film I think, maybe I had it on me somewhere . . . as I started to bring my hand down to my pockets I suddenly froze. Yeah, I saw you, you sly little bitch. She had glanced up as soon as I had started to move my hand down. It was a small movement of her eyes from the pages of whatever book she was reading to me and back down again. Such a very small movement, but I saw it sweetheart, you bet your ass I saw it. I relaxed and put my hands together on my lap, fingers interlaced.
I sat there like that just staring at her, a knowing smirk on my face. C’mon sweetheart, look at me, I had thought. Look at me so you know that I know. Look at me, look at me, look at me. She suddenly looked up at me and I saw recognition flash momentarily in her eyes, then just like that it was gone as she almost demurely lowered her eyes to that book. I had to make sure she knew that I knew who she was, whom she worked for. I needed a reaction to make sure she was who I thought she was. I chuckled loud enough to be heard over the engine of the bus. Her eyes didn’t stray from that infernal book. As she read it her lips moved as if she was reading aloud. The little man in the white suit looked over at me with an almost irritated look on his face and I looked over in time to see the business woman turn away, her lips set in a line and her eyes expressing pity.
I was beginning to become angry at this point. What did these people know about what was really going on in this world? They were just consumed by their daily little lives. These espresso drinking, pizza pocket eating, nine-to-fiver’s with their bitter, job hating days filled with hours of self-aggrandizement, their nights filled with club hopping hours of imitated vivacity, their souls slowly drained through their eyes and into the glowing box in their living room. Who the hell were they? Nothing. That young couple looking back at me like I was crazy, what do they know but just waiting for the latest cell phone they don’t need to come out and take their money and give them a brain tumor in return. Serves them right. They don’t know the life I live right under theirs. I am somebody. They are nothing. Turds. How many of them are alive because of me? Who knows? I don’t know if I care anymore. I can’t remember. Then she was looking at me. She gave me a little smile, almost of reassurance. Almost. The arrogance! She was mocking me now. She must have seen the look on my face because she immediately looked down again.
The old wino in the back of the bus suddenly moaned a little, and shifted in his seat. The brown paper bag slid forward until the opening was pointed in my direction. There was a fucking eye in it looking directly at me. I couldn’t move, and my muscles felt locked in place. I felt frozen with fear. Then my training took over, I realized I was holding my breath and let it out slowly between my lips. I looked at the bag. There was definitely a camera in there and its small lens looked like nothing less than a human eye winking in the florescent light of the bus. The old bum laid with his head back and one of his eyes was open a slit. He was watching me. How could I have been so stupid? I was distracted by the woman and couldn’t imagine she would have a compatriot here among these nobodies on the bus.
I tried to see out the window on my side. It was dark outside and there were few lights on the streets in this part of town. Were they still following? The bright lights inside the bus made it hard to see through the window and out on the streets. For now, this was our world, all we saw, while to everyone we might have passed our sick little marionette play was spotlighted and on display, and I was the only marionette without any strings.
Who else could be with her and the bum? I leaned forward and placed my elbows on my knees. The woman took her hand and moved her hair back over her shoulder. That’s when I saw it, a name badge hanging from her jacket pocket. It read: Susan Emerson, R.N. B.A. Above that it said: Blackwood Mental Health Center. I recognized that name . . . it was months ago . . .
They had me by my arms, dragging me forward step by step. I struggled but there was one on each arm. They were big men. Men in white pants and white shirts with a zipper up the front. “No, get your fucking hands off of me, don’t you know who I am.” I had screamed but they just kept pulling me forward. “Yeah we know who you are, Edward Knowles,” the one with the head shaved to the scalp said.
“How do you know my name?” I screamed. “Who do you work for?”
They slammed me bodily on a gurney and began to strap my arms and legs to it with leather cuffs. Nurse Emerson was there brandishing a needle as she asked,
“How many cc’s Doctor Browning?”
“Give him four that ought to do it.” A man with a white lab coat and a salt and pepper beard said, standing off to the side with his arms crossed over a clipboard and looking on impassively. She had leaned over me as shaved head pulled my shirt up at the back. I felt the bite of the needle as she plunged it into my lower back. I struggled against my bonds for a few minutes as a strange lethargy began to overcome me.
“What’s wrong with this guy?” I heard shaved head ask.
“It’s sad,” Susan Emerson responded. “He owned a home security company, built it up himself even while battling his schizophrenia with medication. One day while he was out of town on business, his family was the victims of a home invasion. His wife had forgot to turn the alarm on and the men attacked and killed her and his three children.”
“Holy shit. That’s horrible.” Somebody said.
“That’s not the worst part,” Emerson said, “He had cameras installed and they recorded everything. He watched them die and his family was looking toward the cameras they knew were there as they were killed. Knowles said they were looking at him for help and he couldn’t do anything to save them, just watch and look into their eyes helplessly. He went off his medication and has been like this ever since. Once he goes through a lot of therapy and some stronger meds he should be able to slowly enter outpatient therapy.”
Their voices had then slowly faded away . . .
The fog finally faded from my mind. What was it in my pocket? Not a film roll no, it was my medication! Yes it had been sitting in there for days, or was it weeks? I couldn’t remember. I had escaped from that place. I remembered them chasing me. That’s who was after me. I looked up and saw my reflection in the window next to her. My disheveled hair, my dirty clothes. I wasn’t wearing a suit? I was sick, and I needed to take that medication. I had something wrong with me . . . something . . . Wait a second, no that’s not right. What was that memory? Was it real? No, it wasn’t. It was her, Susan Emerson and that doctor, they were trying to brainwash me. I could think clearly once again. Yes that’s . . . wait a second, what was she doing? I looked up at her, she wasn’t reading aloud, I noticed the hands-free cell phone in her ear. I could hear sirens somewhere far away. I knew it! She was one of them.
“I got you bitch, you think I’m stupid?” I screamed, my finger pointed straight in her face. I jumped to my feet and thrust my palm into her head and bounced it off of the window behind her. She screamed as her head cracked the glass and it splintered out from around her head like the halo of Jesus Christ. The bus began noisily and jerkily braking to a stop as people were jumping to their feet. I didn’t pay those worms any attention. Susan’s head slumped forward and the focal point in the splintered glass looked like an eye. The eye in the bum’s bag was looking out at me. Everywhere I looked, the passengers were looking back at me. They looked back with their wide, staring eyes.
I pushed the back doors of the bus open and jumped out running. I couldn’t let them catch me. I ran down the darkened streets, the sound of sirens echoing madly in the distance. My feet hammering on the pavement were drowned out by my heart pounding in my ears, and in every dark window, and in every shadowed doorway, the eyes followed me.
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