May 25, 2006

Bus stop

The buses come up the little side street hill with a dry coughing rev and then there’s a pause to drift and then they give the long hiss of air brakes as they come to a stop at the bus stop-stop sign. Across the street two skeletal cranes reenact in pantomime some battle between monsters, silhouetting swinging arms and booms against the sky.

Sometimes someone’s standing there, watching the cranes or the construction, and then the black door opens up to the inside. Sometimes no one’s there and the bus stays closed, the windows black but untinted and showing as shadows the shapes of the driver in the nose and the passengers back in the belly.

One after another they come like train cars linked together. Bus upon bus, outnumbering even the cars. They stop at the corner in clusters. Two at a time and three at a time, rev-pause-hiss, rev-pause-hiss. Someone said they once saw six all stop at once, but I’ve only ever seen four. They all seem empty or half empty and seem to go on unnumbered. For some reason they make me slightly paranoid. Listening for them and watching them now for days, I have a theory that they’re going in circles.

I think they go around the block or around a couple of blocks, driving eight-hour shifts of loops, turning right and turning right and right and right to cut down this one-way side street with the one left turn. I think if I could see them from the sky, from a seat up high in the cranes, I’d see a circle of white-topped busses forming a turning circle around me.

My sister says that’s silly, that each bus has a designated number and a placard saying where it’s going and that they’re all going to different places. Some of them, she says, aren’t stopping but passing by. But if that’s so then what I’m seeing is a great convergence, like this is some secret center of the city known only to buses and drivers and now to me, the center point where every route for a moment joins, comes together and brakes and then breaks apart to separate again.

If I stand there by the street, by the mailbox, by the trash cans turned over on the curb, every bus will open its doors to offer the step up, to let me step inside and see. What if I climbed in, what if I stepped up and sat back by the middle window and watched? Maybe I’d end up back on my doorstep, shown the circle completed and returned, or maybe I’d end up in some abandoned corner of the city at the far end of a one-way line or in whatever underground garage with the mechanics doing overhauls and the janitors hosing down the rubber floor mats.

The drivers look down at me to see how much I know, to see which way I’ll go, and I look distracted and, I hope, innocent, shifting my weight to the other leg. They close the doors, shutting me off again and taking the turn away up to the main street.