Somewhere in the Night

By on Oct 18, 2020 in Fiction

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Greyhound bus at night

Now, as he sat there and waited for the bus to reach Flat Rock, his thoughts turned to her, to try and picture her as she might now appear; he knew that she would be changed—if not by design and fashion then by age—and, again, he realized how long it had been since they were last together. He, then, thought about the foolishness of what he was asking her to do on such short notice, for such a short time, after so many years. But he also knew that it would not create a problem for her; that at this time during a non-election year, Joanie would be free of her father’s campaign trail and, what with her reduced schedule, she would be dividing her time between reading, her parents and a few close friends. Yet, the absurdity of traveling more than three hundred miles across the South for a few-hour visit—reunion—faded, along with his sense of time, as he found himself hurling over rural highways, deeper and deeper into the Georgia night.

The bus meandered over and around the piedmont like a stray dog; prowling afoot, stopping at farmhouses, junctions and deserted towns, or better yet, diurnal towns and nocturnal ghost towns, only long enough to discard a few of its occupants, its near to parasitic life, and then to hurry quickly on without realizing that it would often pick up as many new parasites—human fleas—as it had rid itself of. It was a vehicle infested with life’s castaways, wanderers and the otherwise unwanted who often usually stayed in whatever town they got off in just long enough to catch the next bus out.

He found himself there, on the bus, not realizing that he, too, was part of the constant parade of disembarkers and embarkers, thinking that he was somehow different—that his reasons were of a higher, more important order, kind, than these poor folks, black and white; folks that would be highlighted as they crossed in front of the bus’s headlights and then slowly disappeared into the darkened theater of the night.  Soon, they were replaced by new spirits—both benevolent and malevolent—easing their way out of the same darkness and onto the bus. As soon as they were all on, the door would slam, the bus would gradually begin to roll, and he would watch the new spirits carefully feel their way down the aisle, almost instinctively avoiding crossed legs and sleeping heads as they furtively looked back and forth for the empty seat that their admission onto the bus implied to them was somewhere there. Finally, he would hear a whoosh and a soft sigh as they sat down into what they thought to be a fresh seat, failing— or not caring—to understand that the seats possessed a myriad of odors and scents from the countless passengers that had ridden this late-night projectile for the last few years. For the route through Flat Rock was not a luxury run, and, as such, the company provided far less than the newest and freshest and cleanest of buses. And, if they had not been exhausted and wearied of the world and their life in it, they might have even found that the seat was still warm; this warmth of a bus seat being practically the only legacy that these late-night travelers could ever leave to one another as they vanished into—and materialized from out of—somewhere in the night.

He sat there amazed at their quiet and patient resignation; for as soon as they were seated, they became immobile, entranced, practically suspended in time with everyone else on the bus, almost as if it were either empty of the living or filled with the dead. It was then that he realized, as he, too, assumed the code of the unwritten stillness, that he might be his own version of all that these people had in common with one another and, so then, with him. And yet, although he realized that his story was similar, he was neither willing nor interested in admitting that theirs was a common bond—a degree of camaraderie among the wretched. They should have, by all rights, perished for one or more of any number of reasons; violence, accident, disease, foolhardiness, despair, but they hadn’t. They’ve continued to survive in spite of them; the obstacles, the threats—their fates; survival by and through the same reasons that would have done them in; by turning the tables, they continued to live, as did he, and thus was also a survivor—like kind among like kind.

Throughout the ride he would find himself alternating between periods of uncomfortable and fitful sleep, and motionless staring out of the window; catching glimpses, shadows and outlines of farmhouses, barns and sheds illuminated by the utility lights scattered throughout the countryside. Occasionally, his search was broken by the flash of headlights or the rushing by of another bus or tractor-trailer, but within moments his eyes readjusted from the suddenness and swiftness of these propelled masses, and were, again, searching for existence—for order in the void of darkness.

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John Hawkins spent a considerable number of years on the two-lane roads of Middle Georgia. Almost always, these roads led him back to where he lived in Flat Rock. Then, one day, he found himself heading north--crossing state lines--and ending up in New York City. There, he stayed and stayed and stayed until one day the roads, again, beckoned him to “…come, follow us…” Well, he did until he stopped in a small upstate hamlet that he now calls home. Yet, every now and then, Georgia “calls,” but not loud enough or convincingly enough for him to leave and go back.