She stood at the side of the road by the bus stop, tapping her foot. Her dark eyes darted back and forth without stopping to rest, as though if they did, she would be caught off guard.
“Where is she? I hope I haven’t missed her,” she asked to whomever would hear, or no one.
There were five of us at the bus stop, five of us females who had been deposited by Trailways at a parking lot that posed as a bus depot in the day, and I suspected a hangout for teenagers at night. A diner was situated in the front of the building, frequented by people who didn’t give us any attention. They’d come in cars, they’d go home by cars. Most of us were waiting for a cab, because we were headed in the same direction.
All but her. When we called for the cab, she ignored the discourse, instead, waiting for her eyes for someone to show up. Her hair was dark like her eyes, with bangs that threatened to hide her face. When they trickled down her cheek, she did nothing to stop their invasion. This accident, as well as her youth, invited protection. It made it easy to see her. All four of us turned to her. She was not the youngest one amongst us.
“Where is who? Who are you looking for?” one of us asked.
“My mother. She was supposed to be here. It’s the first time I’ve taken the bus. What time is it?”
It was three-thirty. The bus had arrived twenty minutes late, due to a neurotic driver. He pulled the bus over in the middle of the interstate to let us know that he wasn’t driving a party bus and expected quiet. He’d done that to a bus full of quiet people. It was like yelling at church ladies to keep the noise down on a silent vigil. That diatribe made us twenty minutes late to our destination, and now led to the silent panic of this young woman.
She pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and sucked into it. “I hope my mother didn’t leave. This is the first time I’m taking the bus.”
“It’s only twenty minutes. I’m sure she would have waited for you. Maybe she didn’t get here yet.”
She didn’t seem to hear. “I’d call her but I don’t have money for the phone.”
One of us handed the girl a cell phone, and while she dialed, the four of us discussed our common destination. A minute later, she gave back the phone without having spoken to anyone.
“She’s not home,” she said pointedly.
“Maybe she’s on her way,” one of us hopefully suggested. She just took another drag on her cigarette, and her eyes watched the distance behind us.
Minutes passed. Several patrons of the diner who I’d seen coming in were leaving the restaurant. Rides were taking awhile today. Our taxi wasn’t here, and neither was this girl’s mother.
We wondered about our own cab together, and then she spoke her dilemma. “My mother said she’d be here. I want to see my daughter. My mother’s taking care of her. It’s the first time I’m taking the bus. I hope I didn’t screw up.”
“Where are you coming from?” I asked.
She told me. It was about a hundred miles away from where we stood. “I’m finishing up my last year of high school there. I’m going to graduate in August.”
“Congratulations,” I offered.
“Thanks.” She put out her cigarette. “I really want to see my daughter.”
“Does your mother live far from here?”
“My sister works about three miles down the road. I don’t want to have to walk there. That’s what happened last time I came here. I don’t want to walk that far.”
“Can she come and get you?”
“Not until seven. I don’t want to wait that long.”
“Maybe you could share our cab. We’ll take you there.”
She did not hear, or maybe, didn’t want to hear. “Where is my mother? She was supposed to be here. Can I have the phone again?”
Again, she dialed the phone. Again, the four of us discussed our common destination. Boy, that bus driver had been crazy, hadn’t he? Pulling over on a highway for no good reason. Meanwhile, the girl talked to somebody about something, and then ended her conversation.
“I talked to my sister. I think she’ll be here soon,” she said.
“You sure? You can ride in our cab with us.”
“Uh-huh.” She lit up another cigarette.
Our cab pulled up and we walked to it. The driver asked if we were all together. No, only four of us. He loaded up our luggage while the girl stood by. We wished her luck as we entered the cab.
“Thanks,” she said.
Then we pulled away, and she became smaller and smaller. The cab turned out of the parking lot, into the busy city street, and she disappeared.
Not once had she ever looked at us.
(Originally published in First Church of the Streets, September 2005)