She made it onto the bus. Ed, the driver, had already begun the back-out from his slot in the bus terminal. But he’d caught sight of her and pulled up long enough to open the doors and let her on, check and process her ticket, then wait for her to settle in the way-back on the wide empty back seat. She let her head rest against the slippery faux-leather. She saw Ed watching her to make sure she was seat-belted. She nodded to let him know all was secure and heard the air brakes release and felt the throb as the bus backed, braked, released again and then began its winding way out of the terminal.
So much for city life, she thought. So much for making it. Sleeping on her Mom’s davenport - translation, very old couch. Trying not to eat much and always having that dull hunger-headache. Being careful not to slop toothpaste in the sink. Or stay too long in the shower. Or let the heavy metal hall door slam. Don’t be gone so late. Don’t gnaw your knuckles. Stand up straighter. She sighed. Had she wanted to be an elephant keeper? Absolutely. Did elephants fascinate her? Definitely. Was she a natural? Yup. Did she keep up, believe she could make it? You bet. Told the family she’d be leaving with Rasmussen’s Traveling Animal Show tomorrow. A shoo-in for the job. But, no. Rasmussen hired an old man. A friend, he said. So much for dreams of glory. Her head nodded and bumped with the poor shock absorbers. She slid into sleep.
When the bus pulled into Anderson, Ed tooted the horn to wake her up. Startled, she roused herself and looked up to find the bus now almost empty, the last passenger but herself stepping heavily down and off, to be met by a jumping-jack little boy and an all-legs slightly older girl, a thin woman standing back, waiting for their greetings to end. She pulled her backpack and her tote up along with herself and wobbled down the aisle. Home again, home again, jiggety-jog. Home to Pop. Who’d be glad. But silently. Give her a hug and a smile. Monday she’d be back at work. Behind the counter, taking in things due for cleaning and handing out freshly cleaned things hung on thin wire hangers wrapped in plastic sheaths readied for another tour of duty. Buddy’d ask her out tomorrow. A sweetheart, Buddy. Maybe? Buddy and her?
Ed knew she’d gone to Boston with high hopes and firm intentions. Now she was back. Looking weary. He’d given her a smile she didn’t see as she humped her bags and herself down the narrow almost-too-high steps and off into the dimly-lit station. Sad, he thought. Saw that a lot, driving buses. He finished his paperwork, gathered his things, eventually following her in, his shift over now.
Seven o’clock, bus re-filled with people heading back to Boston, luggage loaded, tickets processed, passengers seated and belted, Joey Zapparetti started up, checked his mirrors, released the air brake, backed out, and began the trip. Five hours later he left Boston Terminal. Done. Finished shuttling people with their problems and dreams. It’d be weird at first. Low man. At sixty-two. Pushing a broom. Lugging water. Still, fit enough. Plenty in savings. Be traveling. Riding, not driving. So he’d done it. Said yeah, okay. Starting tomorrow. Elephant keeper? For Mose Rasmussen? -- After years of crowded busloads of cranky people? Easy-peasy. Piece of cake. Nothing to it.