She sleeps like a dead weight now beside me, lowered into the night, the ropes of the day swaying around her. We know nothing about each other really. She does not know how often my ex-lover visits me ... [+]
He had been doing this for about five years, right after she was killed. Her boyfriend shot her one night over dinner. Then shot himself.
"I don't see her every bus ride," he explained to me. "Only at night."
I was temporarily living in the guest room of his apartment when he told me all about it. My wife and I weren't seeing eye to eye, and things were beginning to unravel. He was a good friend, obviously for letting me crash at his place, but for other things, too. He donated a lot of time to various charities and food drives, worked for a non-profit, and always made an effort to see family members. But this late night bus riding business—it worried me.
"Explain how this happens," I said to him.
He was in his kitchen cooking us a pasta dinner. I sat at the counter and drank wine.
"Every night I take the midnight bus. It picks up a few blocks from here. Usually it's pretty empty by the time I board. Some nights, I'm the only person riding."
He told me she didn't show up right away. He would start by simply taking a seat and thinking about her. Memories. Times they spent together. Mostly from childhood, such as drawing chalk on their driveway or playing hide and go seek. It would soothe him. Typically, he would ride the bus for about twenty minutes in solitude, then she would appear in the seat next to him.
"It's brief, though," he said. "Only for a few seconds. Once she appears, and I can see her, that's when I'm ready to get off. So I stand up and leave."
I took another sip of wine.
"Does she ever say anything to you?"
"That's what she says to me. She says ‘Two More,' and then she disappears."
"What does ‘Two More' mean?"
He sighed. "She's never answered me, when I ask."
But ‘Two More' had taken on a life of its own. If he was putting sugar into his coffee, he wouldn't hesitate to put in two more scoops. There were always two more dollars in his pocket he could give to someone in need. Always two more steps he could take in his marathon training. Two more was an institution. Two more was a way of life.
"Would you mind if I rode the bus with you one of these nights?" I asked him.
He set down a measuring cup on the counter and pondered for a few seconds.
"You can come," he said. "I just ask you sit a few rows behind me."
My friend was right; the bus was essentially empty. Only a few passengers scattered throughout. He took a seat toward the middle on the right hand side, while I stood in the aisle.
"You can sit there," he said, and pointed to an empty seat a few rows back.
I didn't want to disturb the process, so I didn't bother questioning why my seat position mattered. I was here for him, after all.
I took out a book and tried to calm my nerves. It's not like his sister appeared right away. I had some time, but every few moments I glanced up to see what was going on. My friend was sitting with his hands folded and resting on his lap. No book, no headphones. Just complete concentration and stoic demeanor.
As ridiculous as I thought this was, I couldn't deny it was soothing. I could feel the cool breeze coming through the windows. I could read peacefully. I had plenty of room to stretch my legs—a novelty.
Before we boarded, my friend agreed to a few stipulations. When his sister appeared, he would give me a head nod. Then he would face her, so I could see where she was sitting. Although, she usually sat right next to him. Once she disappeared he would get up. This would be my cue to leave.
After about twenty minutes, I put down my book so I could focus. My heart started racing. I had never seen a ghost before. It's not that I didn't believe they could exist, I just didn't have any proof. The bus was getting close to the end of its line, and I was already dreading the long walk back to his apartment. After another stop, we were the only two on board. She had to be close.
The bus driver made a muffled announcement over the speaker, but I couldn't make out what was being said. Then my friend turned around. He gave me the nod.
She was here.
I could hear my heart thumping out of my chest. My friend's gaze turned to the seat next to him. His lips were moving slightly, and it looked like he was mumbling something to her. The seat was, however, empty.
There was no one sitting there. At least no one I could see. I stared, and I stared, but I couldn't see her. I wanted to see her. It would have given me so much joy. It would have justified all the hours my friend was spending on the midnight bus. I wanted to see her the same way I wanted to cry in sad situations but could never seem to. What was wrong with me, for not believing?
There was another announcement over the loudspeaker, this time with more clarity.
"Fourth and Market. This is Fourth and Market, folks. Only two more stops. Two more stops and everyone's off."
My friend smiled at his sister. Then he stood up, ready to get off, ready to get on with his life. He waved back at me. But I didn't get up. I stayed seated.
"We can get off now," he said.
"You can go," I said.
I wasn't ready to leave just yet.