The Long Drive Home
Once the bus is empty, I can go home.
It sighs with me as we pull up. Without hesitating, a woman on her cell phone threads through the front doors as they open. She’s entirely indifferent, as if she’s walked the whole way.
I break right after pulling out, causing a few of the standing passengers to sidestep. Siren lights skip past the intersection, speeding out of sight.
“Hermes grant them safe and speedy passage,” I whisper.
Sunflowers in a community garden nod to salute the falling afternoon sun. A white ribbon hangs content from the rear-view mirror.
“What did you say?”
I startle, causing the man behind me to laugh.
“Please stay behind the yellow line,” I say. My voice drops an octave over the course of the sentence.
“What was it that you said, sir?”
Next stop. I signal. Slow down, curve in. Kneel the bus. Open the doors.
“Move back please,” I say again.
“I’m behind –”
“There’s a stroller getting on.” I say it a bit louder so people sitting in the accessible seats move.
The mother manages to smile at me while juggling the act. She even offers a “good afternoon”, but I’m glancing at the man. He grins at the woman, his one tooth greeting her.
He comes back to the front of the bus, hunched over, half-shuffling. I try to focus on the heartbeat of the cards tapping in.
“You said something about Hermes,” says One Tooth.
“Yes,” I allow.
I pass the 014 and the 09. They’re both late. The undesired, lesser versions of my 099.
“Always did like Roman mythology.” I’m convinced he only knows how to smile.
I have to stop myself from opening my mouth. The Roman version would be Mercury, but correcting him would mean interacting with him.
I put my voice on the loudspeaker for the first time since training. “Last stop, UBC – everyone off.”
The bus whines, the sound falling over One Tooth’s voice asking me something again. As I turn the steering wheel I realize my hands are aching.
A buzz. “Back door!”
“Fuck,” I whisper.
I push the appropriate button, looking back in the mirror, avoiding One Tooth’s face. The students rush out: fish in the river, cast out of the net.
I busy myself with my coat for as long as possible.
One Tooth is leaning against the shock-yellow bar in front of the door.
“This is the last stop,” I tell him. “You need to get off.”
His smile quiets, but it feels louder. There’s dirt caked under his nose, dandruff clinging to thinned hair. He’s holding onto the rail as if it were his.
“You’re the boss.”
As soon as his feet are on the ground, I close the doors, and let myself breathe. “Thank you, Hermes,” I pray to Him.
One Tooth looks back one last time. He looks different – his teeth?
A bus honks behind me. I get back in my seat, and sigh the bus into life.
. . .
A dimple forms in the Jupiter swirl in my coffee as I add the cream.
My pocket vibrates, and I have to put the cup down on the counter. I press the green call button before I can check the number.
I’m frowning at my coffee cup. “Hi.”
“Your mental health assessment came back. You’ve been given the night off.”
I look back out the window of the Tim Horton’s to my N17. “I’m halfway through a route –”
“We can get someone there in five minutes and make up for the time –”
“Mister Lim –”
“Daniel. I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Take the night off. The whole month, actually. We’re going to need you to get another evaluation after.”
I pull my phone away from my ear and hang up without saying goodbye. I need to drive this bus. I need to get home.
I have to trust Hermes will guide me there.
. . .
The Granville Bridge will be perfect.
But this college kid hasn’t gotten off yet. She must be headed closer to campus, and that means crossing the bridge.
Just a stop before – right at Davie, she gets off. My eyes feel heavy. My jaw is sore. This is it.
I let the bus sing its announcement to leave before a buzzer yells. Someone’s foot is caught in the back door.
Before I can do anything, a stumbling flutter of drag queens is on my bus. The smell of their layered lipstick and powdered blush puts a bitter tinge to the smell of alcohol. It’s almost 3am. The clubs have closed.
I don’t move for a solid minute, and I’m not sure they even notice.
I’ll have to do a loop. Pass the bridge once, then come back around. It’ll be a delay. But maybe I’ll get to see the sun rise. Maybe that’s better.
I’d imagined it being softer when the light finds new life. In wet pavement, in reflective stop signs… At night, buses become neon, mobile fish tanks.
Motion catches my eye in the mirror – two of them are holding on to the rigid, yellow veins of the bus and swinging their legs up in front of them, trying to kick each other. In their heels, no less.
“Excuse me, ladies!” I call back. “Sit down please.”
Rumbling giggles tumble forward. “Yes, sir,” they say.
I sigh, the bus sighs, and we drive forwards.
. . .
I can feel the cinnamon bun I’ve bought for Him push against the inside of its box, the icing languidly shifting to hold on. I’ve learned how much He loves sweets. I can feel the warmth in the box like an echo from the sun just below us, readying to rise.
I get on my bus through the back doors, and place the box on the dashboard. I take the white ribbon hanging above me and tie it around my wrist. It is smooth and scratchy at the same time.
I’m driving on Howe Street again. Along the final stretch – only five major intersections are left.
With me, only a mom and her two kids sitting way in the back. But she’s pulled the thin, yellow artery, calling us to one last stop.
She gets off without ceremony, rushing to transfer to the next bus, clutching a little boy’s hand. The little boy looks backwards, mouth open in an unheard whine, reaching back behind him.
I click the doors locked. I soften the lights. “My Lord,” I say aloud. “Please pull me into your embrace.”
Traffic pulls forward again.
The sky has shown its face today, free of clouds. It’s a shy, faded blue sitting above a city dipped in peach.
“Please take this humble offering, and let it feed your essence.”
My emergency radio flickers on. I think to turn it off but I need to aim perfectly. I can’t take my hands off the wheel.
On the bridge now, I can see it all.
“Bus 207, please respond.”
The boats in the harbour. The slumbering mountains a world away.
“A mother is here, just got off-”
If I’m any slower than 90km/h, I won’t make it. The barriers will hold me back. I’m going sixty… seventy…
“Hermes greet me,” I say. Chosen final words.
As much as I wish, I won’t be able to yank the steering wheel to do it. The bus is too large.
So I pull left first so the arch can be wider. Tires screech – frightened horns honk. Something squelches behind me.
I have to make up for the speed I lost turning. Eighty… ninety…
“ – left her daughter behind – ”
Now I turn right. Aimed perfectly at the railing.
Footsteps behind me. Boots.
Red in my rear-view mirror. A little girl. She sees me. Our eyes ask each other so many questions.
“Bus 207 please – ”
Now I’m against the glass of the windshield that has so often separated me from the world. The girl is falling towards me… But she’s not falling. I’m caught in that moment. She’s frozen there, forever.
I never feel us hit the water. I don’t remember what it’s like to drown.
We are in darkness. I know I am dead.
Someone’s holding my hand. I’m not sure how I know at first, because I’m not sure how it feels. But it’s her. In small, cherry-red boots.
And now He’s here.
“Daniel,” He says.
He looks so sad.
“You have to pay to cross,” He says.
The ribbon on my wrist smiles at me. I have to let go of the little girl’s hand to untie it. It’s stubborn, asking, “Are you sure?”
I only have fare for one.
I put it in her hands. “Here,” I say. “Go with Him.”
When Hermes takes her hand, she shines. They cross beyond.
And I am left here, so far away from home.