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Homeward Bound

Updated on December 21, 2011

The man walked with a slight limp; in his right hand he tightly gripped a wooden cane, which supported the weight of his old body. He walked slowly and patiently to his usual spot - a rusted iron bench, unsheltered from the outside elements. His cane balanced him as his body bent to sit on the bench, his bones and joints cracking with age. He breathed in deeply and rested his back against the cool iron back of the bench. He checked his watch - 7:55 on the dot. He smiled to himself and closed his eyes for a moment, listening to the coos of the morning doves.

In the distance he heard the rumbling of a large vehicle. It roared down the road, slowing in front of him and coming to a screeching stop. The doors parted and thudded against the frame of the bus. The man lifted himself off the seat - his trusted cane balancing him - and limped towards the bus. He gripped the metal railing on the left side, pulling himself forward and up the steps. He dropped some change into the bus toll; the coins clinked together as they fell into their new home.

"Morning," he called in a cheery voice to the driver; a large rounded woman with curly red hair and large blue eyes.

"Good morning, sir," she called back to him, parting her thin red lips into a smile. She pulled the doors closed and pushed the bus into gear.

The man limped to the back of the bus and sat in the center of the long leather seat which was covered with rips and graffiti. He let his cane rest beside him as he leaned back and made himself comfortable. The driver looked quickly in the large rear view mirror and in her two side mirrors before pulling out into the road and continuing on her way.

The man watched the scenes go by him through the dirty, half open windows. Slowly, the quiet country melted away before his eyes. Homes grew bigger and practically multiplied, getting closer and closer together until there was hardly any lawn around them. Buildings grew taller, reaching higher and higher into the sky. People busied the sidewalks and yellow cabs dominated the streets.

The man watched as people walked this way and that, hurrying to their destinations, some on cell phones, others with dogs, and some hand-in-hand with their partner. He watched as young kids with piercings and tattoos slouched along, their hair colored vividly and in every direction. He saw groups of young girls in high leather boots giggle at passers-by, and businessmen rush towards their lunch meetings.

Before long, the bus came to another screeching halt, stopping on the corner of one of the many busy streets. Men, women, and children stood outside, waiting for the bus doors to open, and when they did, they hurriedly piled on, searching for an empty seat away from others.

A young woman dressed in grey pants and a matching jacket took a seat in the middle, holding her phone against her ear with her shoulder while she typed away on her Blackberry. A young man with baggy jeans and chains coming out of every pocket sat towards the back. His hair stood straight up and was colored in a vivid blue. The headphones screamed into his ears; the old man could hear the steady rhythm of the bass. A middle aged man came aboard the bus as well. He was dressed casually in blue jeans and a t-shirt; he didn't stand out as much as the other two passengers did. He was quiet as he gazed out the window.

The doors slammed shut and the bus jerked forward, the four passengers bouncing in their seats. The businesswoman continued to talk quickly and loudly into her phone, unaware of her own surroundings. The young man with the screaming music bobbed his head and tapped his foot. Now and then he thudded on the back of the seat in front of him, imitating a drum solo.

The bus pulled to another stop; none got off, but another crew of people boarded. A tall, dark haired man boarded first. Like the businesswoman, he was dressed in a fine suit and carried a briefcase. He did not gab away into his cell phone, but as soon as he sat, he opened his briefcase, revealing a laptop. Quickly, he turned it on and began typing away.

Two young girls followed behind him. They quickly scanned the bus and took a seat together towards the front. Immediately they began whispering and giggling to themselves. Two younger men also boarded and sat towards the middle, hand-in-hand. They were quiet, but spoke to each other now and then.

Finally, an older couple boarded. They sat in the very first seat, not bothering to search for any other spot. The grey haired woman held the arm of her husband as they sat down together. They smiled at each other and spoke quietly in a language the old man assumed to be French.

Again, the doors slammed closed and the bus inched its way into traffic. On the sidewalk, the people seemed to be moving at a faster pace than the bus, which was stopped behind a long line of traffic at a very long red light. The man took no notice of this, though, and continued to take in the scenes around him.

The bus finally made it through the intersection and continued on its way, stopping at its next destination. Here, the young man with vivid blue hair bounced off the bus and disappeared into the crowd. More young people and businessmen and women boarded the bus, but one person in particular caught the old man's eye. The last to board was a very small boy, not much older than ten years old. His hair was a shaggy brown color, matching his deep brown eyes, which were wide as he looked around the bus.

The boy shoved his hand into his pocket and revealed some change. He held his open palm to the bus driver who nodded and smiled. He watched as the coins dropped into the toll, then faced the passengers on the bus. He walked slowly down the aisle, looking at each seat that passed, until he decided to sit in the second to last seat, just diagonal from the old man.

He jumped onto the leather seat, his feet swinging carelessly under him. He seemed to study the back of the seat in front of him for a moment as the bus made its way back into traffic. The little boy looked carefully at each tear and rip in the seat and at each word written carelessly in permanent marker. Some of the words he didn't seem to understand; some of the drawings made him giggle. He then turned his attention to the window on his left. His nose pressed against the dirty glass as he watched the city go by.

The bus must have stopped at other stops, but the old man no longer noticed this. His interest was on the young boy who traveled alone on the bus. He watched him for what seemed like hours, but was really only twenty minutes at the most. The boy, who seemed to grow bored of the world passing by him, scooted towards the end of the seat, letting his legs dangle in the aisle. He looked past the seats in front of him out the front window, then turned to look towards the back, meeting the old man's eyes.

The boy smiled, revealing a very white set of teeth, all perfectly placed in his tiny mouth. The man smiled back. At the next stop, the boy got out of his seat and bounced into the open space next to the man. He looked up at the man's old, wrinkly face, and smiled again. The man looked down at the boy and gave him his kindest smile.

As the bus merged with traffic, the boy spoke.

"Hi," he said simply.

"Hello," the man said.

"Where you goin'?" he asked.

"Oh, nowhere, really."

The boy seemed to process this through his mind. "Nowhere?" he asked. The man nodded.

"Where are you going?" the man asked in conversation.

"Nowhere," the young boy replied, smiling and looking out into traffic.

"Nowhere? All by yourself?"

"Yup."

"Why?" The old man looked curiously at the boy. The boy shrugged.

"Why are you all the way in the back?" the boy asked. His gaze returned to the old man's face.

"I always sit in the back," he said.

"Why?"

"That's how I grew up."

"Why?" The boy held his gaze on the old man.

"I don't know," the man said quietly. "Those were the rules."

The boy thought about this for a moment. "Is it still the rules?"

"No, not anymore."

"So why don't you sit somewhere else?"

"I'm used to being back here. I feel safe here, like at home."

"Where is your home?" the boy asked.

"I live outside of town."

"What's that like?"

"Well, I have a small house with a big yard and lots of trees that provide shade from the sun. I like to nap in the shade."

"A yard? What's that?"

"It's a big area with lots of grass."

"I don't got one of those," the boy said. "Can I come to your yard sometime?"

"Sure," the man said with a chuckle. The boy smiled another one of his bright, perfect smiles.

The bus pulled to the side of the road at the next stop. The man stood, his hand gripping his cane tightly as he pushed himself off the seat. The young boy took the man's hand in his. They waited as the other passengers, men, woman, and young teens, stood as well and merged into the aisle. The red haired bus driver stood and smiled at each of them as they stepped off the bus and onto the busy sidewalk. She followed them out and closed the bus doors behind her.

On the sidewalk, people ran and screamed. A young woman was crying hysterically. Children were screaming and being pushed out of the way. People jumped out of cars and cabs to gawk at the sight in front of them. There, mangled and twisted, was the large bus, wrapped around an eighteen wheeler. Other cars were twisted in the wreck, some underneath the two larger vehicles, some upside down on the road, others sandwiched between the two. Another car had spun out of control, piercing a young woman against a building who screamed in agony. Her cry was the loudest of all.

The passengers watched the scene in front of them quietly; none said a word. One by one, they slowly turned and disappeared into the crowd until only the old man and young boy were left. They stood watching the scene; the red and blue lights of the fire trucks and ambulances flashed vividly and reflected off the shattered glass on the road. Chainsaws roared and hacked away at the vehicles. Bodies were pulled out of the bloody debris, checked for life, and sealed away in white body bags; large, detailed note cards labeled each one.

A young woman ran through the crowd, carelessly shoving people aside.

"My son!" she hollered. "My son was on that bus! Where is my son?" Tears rushed down her face as she continued to search and holler.

The young boy looked up at the old man's face. The old man met his eyes and smiled.

"Want to play in my yard?" the old man asked kindly. The young boy flashed his perfect smile, his eyes bright with excitement.

"Can I?" he exclaimed. The old man took the young boy's hand and led him through the city towards home.

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