The corners of Terry’s lips are tight and turned down, but he doesn’t notice. Frozen like the mannequin watching his back, he stares as dancing red taillights inch their way out of the city. Most people crowd under the awning to hide from the rain, but not Terry. He stands near the road to optimize his chance in the upcoming race for a seat on the bus. Three busses, but not the 514, splash past and belch out a moan while stopping at the curb; spraying him with a muddy mist that covers his coat with tiny brown spots. They suck in a load of passengers and moan again while crawling out to join the dance.A sharp pain shoots from the center of his right eye to the middle of his skull. Reflexively, he drops his gaze downward while placing his thumb on one temple and forefinger on the other. He closes his eyes and squeezes until the pain begins to fade. He notices that his jaw is clenched with such force that it could support his weight as he dangled precariously on the end of a rope high above the ground. He attempts to relax his clamped teeth by squeezing tighter with his fist. As the pain continues to subside, his jaw relaxes. He breaths deep and exhales while releasing his grip. Slowly, he lifts his eyelids. The floodgate opens and the world pours back in to his stream of conscious. He preferred the headache.
The 514 belches past, splashing him, and stops a few yards away. For a moment he has a clear path to the rear door. He wants to hurry but doesn’t want to look foolish. His awkward hustled step accomplishes neither. The crowd surges forward and he is lost in a sea of commuters. With his face inches away from the back of a dark blue raincoat, he begins a tiny-two-step shuffle towards the bus door. He’ll make the bus, but will he be sitting or standing for the next eighty-minutes? He dreads standing. A seat on the bus can erase an entire day of telling the mouthpiece of a telephone that it does not have enough insurance. He reaches the doorway, steps up, and looks right; to the front of the bus. No empty seats. Even the aisle is crowded with standing passengers. His eyes widen and his chest pounds. In the back of his head, an image of his boss is laughing. He needed and expected a seat today. He begins walking left while jerking around his head which creates a smeared, blurry image of the bus interior. As the distorted image clears and his focus returns, an empty seat in the back emerges. In a rush of giant stumbling steps, he claims it. Thank God, he’ll be sitting.
He awkwardly arranges his legs and positions his briefcase and wet newspaper on his lap. The back row sits higher than the rest. He is in the middle seat looking straight up the aisle. It’s hard to get comfortable. He sucks in a chest-full of stale and humid air, but he doesn’t notice. He exhales slowly and basks in the sweet sensation of sitting. His legs and feet pound as blood is pushed through the aching muscles. He enjoys this pain. It means he’s sitting.
The bus surges forward, causing the crowded aisle to pulse in unison toward him; some stumbling and grasping to regain balance. When he is forced to stand, he prepares for it.
People never learn, he thinks to himself.
The bus is quiet. The commuters, dressed in dark blue, gray, and black raincoats, ride in silence. Most stare blankly forward. A few sleep and a few read, but nobody speaks. The windows are fogged on the inside and drops of water spot the outside. The bus belches to another stop. Not much room left; even the aisle is almost full. Several more commuters push their way through the crowd and climb aboard. Then, a ‘not-commuter’ steps on. She stands several rows in front of him.
Terry stares at the ‘not-commuter.’ She is standing sideways in the aisle as he gazes at her profile. She wears a bright red tank-top which is wet and tight against her skin. Her stomach is flat and glides upwards to her breast. He follows its firm curve out, around, and up. Her nipple pushes hard against the inside of her top. He focuses and notices the dark patch of skin around it. He stares for a moment and moves his head down but his eyes linger on the breast which bounces gently as her body shuffles. His eyes snap away and he focuses on her black skirt, which hugs her waist and ends almost where it began. The lower curvature of her buttocks is exposed. He stares at the perfect round arc which rounds off her lower cheek and connects to her leg. His gaze moves down her long, slender, and fully exposed leg to her black high heels. Bright red toenails stop his downward motion and send it back up. His chest burns with a fervor that yearns to explode; a passion Terry lost many years ago. With an awakened breath, he climbs back up her leg; pausing the point where the skirt beings to hide her skin.
A man stands from the seat next to her, blocking his view. The man speaks to the women, who smiles and sits in the newly vacated seat. Terry frowns and throws a disgusted look at the short man who isn’t looking at him. He shakes his head just enough to feel it moving back and forth but not enough that anyone would notice.
The bus jumps and once again, those standing stumble. Terry snickers. Several minutes later, the bus grinds to its final stop. A few more commuters squeeze on as the final spaces in the aisle vanish. A tall man stands in front of Terry. He looks up and the man looks down. For a moment, they stare at each other.
“I’ll give you five bucks for your seat.”
Terry notices his teeth are white and clean. He continues to stare. His mustache and beard are trimmed short. He is wearing dark glasses and Terry can’t see his eyes.
“How about ten?” the man asks.
Terry blinks and shakes his head slightly. “Twenty,” he replies.
The man smiles, laughs, and turns away. His smile is gone when he looks back at Terry.
“Ok, what the hell.”
The man opens his raincoat. Several large golden rings hug fingers which disappear into his pocket. They appear again wrapped around a money clip that secures a green wad of bills. The fingers fumble with the clip and appear in front of his face holding a twenty dollar bill. Terry snatches it.
He stands, steps forward, and the man sits behind him. He holds the newspaper and briefcase in one hand, the twenty dollar bill in the other. As he shoves the money into his pocket the bus lurches forward. Terry stumbles backward towards the now sitting man, who catches him as he falls.
“Sorry,” Terry mutters while standing back up.
He grabs the pole next to him, which rises from the floor to the ceiling. He sets his briefcase down at his side, tucks the paper under his arm, and sticks his hand in his pocket. His fingers toy with the twenty dollar bill tucked inside his pants as he glances at the window.
He sees his reflection; standing in the aisle, one hand holding the pole and the other in his pocket. Something moves next to his image on the glass. It’s the red blouse of the “not-commuter.” He follows it up through cleavage, over red lips, and stops at dark eyes. They are staring straight back at him.