The bus was late again. It was the fifth goddamn time this week and I'd had about enough. Mr. Jenkins didn't care about late buses, sick kids, or manic-depressive wives who scream one minute and then act as if nothing has happened the next. He only cared about lower costs, more productivity, the company, the company, the company. Screw the company! I could give a shit about the company. The Kriski Report he had hounded me for weeks to finish sat in my briefcase neatly typed and ready to be plopped on his desk.
"Roberts," Jenkins had commanded me, "This report is so important and secret that I want only one copy to be made and delivered to me, personally. Erase everything after you print it out. Do you understand me, Roberts?"
Yeah, I understood. I wished I had the guts to spit in his face when I gave it to him.
Familiar faces I never interacted with or could have cared less about waited at the same bus stop. Day in and day out they stood reading their papers, looking up every few second to watch a non-existent bus seemingly never arrive at the corner. The cloud cover that stretched across the sky was a perfect match for my mood. I preferred the heavy clouds overhead, as blue skies brought me even further down into the deep pit I'd dug myself into all these years.
I stood on the street watching those gray rolling clouds, thinking, What happened to that young idealistic boy? The one who used to dream about making it big, saving the world and collecting accolades for scholarly works. Where did the man go who talked of sailing around the world and climbing the great peaks? Did I choose the wrong course? Could I have ever chosen the right one or did both avenues converge somewhere down the way past my field of vision and doomed me to this existence from the start? I didn't know and I didn't care... No, that's a lie. I did care. I had just become stifled by the realities of life.
The newspaper in my hand held the same depressing drivel as my life did. Kids shooting kids, countries shooting countries, the world ending with a computer meltdown-I stuffed it in the metal wire mesh trash can.
My typical mood was enhanced by the pointless ramblings of some homeless drunk pseudo-preacher staggering down the street towards me. My hatred and disdain for these leeches on society was only slightly greater than my own self-hatred and sorry state of affairs.
The dreg immediately locked eyes with me and quickly approached. "Glory be! Praise the Lord and the mighty sons of Allah shall save you!" The words were accompanied by a putrid odor that resembled a symphony of every disgusting scent imaginable.
"Get the goddamn hell away from me! Jerk!" I shouted into the gouged, bearded face of this sewer drain of humanity.
He grabbed my lapels and pulled me close to him causing our bodies to touch. The stench that rose from his body and pierced my nasal cavity was as sharp and acrid as anything I'd ever experienced. My gag reflex immediately began to kick in and I could feel my stomach tightening; the bile was beginning to rise in my esophagus.
"Hhhope. You must have hope and faith and you will be saved." His breath was strong with the scent of stale alcohol.
The briefcase was knocked out my hand and proceeded to crack open on the sidewalk sending the Kriski Report flying. "Get away from me, piece of shit!" I pushed him back and watched him fall back onto the sidewalk as I began to chase the papers now sailing in ten different directions caught the swirl of wind that seemed to rise from nowhere.
"The Lord will save you and make you whole!" the drunk continued to shout, his arms raised, as he stumbled away barely phased by my rebuffing him.
"Jesus Christ! SHIT... NO!" I chased the papers cursing, as I now became morning entertainment for the group of waiting commuters. Their smiles and snickers taunted me. I could see their sideways glances observing my plight as their eyes remained falsely engrossed in The Times, The Star or USA Today. The report continued to scatter around the legs and feet of the group, but they remained ignorant of my circumstances, lifting their feet to let the papers sweep around them, but never once attempting to help. The anger that I already felt was now doubled by the lack of support or concern any of these useless automatons showed. As I raced around trying to collect what was very likely the difference between my having a job and the unemployment line, I couldn't help but scream at these stupid drones. "Can any of you idiots help me? Huh?" but they just buried their heads deeper, not wanting to get involved. I picked up three pages that landed in the puddle of a tipped soda can, shook them off and stuck them in the cracked, battered briefcase. Five more pages settled into gutter where the sidewalk and street join.
Then, all at once, like some herd of Serengeti Antelope, their heads raised as if warned to an approaching enemy. The low rumble of a bus engine advanced up the street, and in response, the flock gathered their belongings and began shuffling toward the curb. But before I could retrieve the errant papers from the gutter, the bus pulled up and they became trapped beneath the huge tire. The bus door opened and the drones began swarming inside.
"Hey!" I yelled to the driver over the heads of the loading passengers, "I have some important papers stuck under your tire. Could you move up a little so I can get them?"
"Mister, the bus don't move when the doors are open and once the doors close I'm outa' here. Sorry." My madness was a fever pitch. I had no choice but to miss the bus in order to get the papers. I was at a point of no return as rage overcame common sense. As hard as I could I began smashing my briefcase against the side of the bus.
"You fucking idiot schmucks!" I screamed at the last people attempting to get on the bus as fast as they could in order to escape my lunacy. "GO! Go to your stupid little jobs with your stupid little blinders strapped to the sides of your stupid little heads! Goddamn sheep! I wouldn't stop to help any of you if you were in the gutter with open bleeding wounds!" The briefcase broke into shattered bits of leather and pressboard as what few papers I was able to collect were now part of the rest of the garbage in the city. The bus doors closed as the drones safely stared out the window at this lunatic having a full-blown rage attack. It pulled away from the curb as I continued to shout after it. "I hope a speeding fire truck cuts you in two and you all die!"
As the bus left, it created a vacuum that took with it any hope or chance left to me. I sat down on the curb, put my head in my hands and stared down into the street. The papers previously trapped under the tire were now free, but they didn't matter anymore. Nothing did. Whatever small plug was holding my life and sanity together was pulled and everything I had left drained away. Life on the street didn't seem like such a distant option anymore. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. No job, no manic-depressive wife, whining kids or bills to deal with. I just sat there with my head buried trying to figure what my next step was going to be.
When I lifted my head from my hands I turned to look across the street toward the park. There, walking along the entrance was a man-a short stocky fellow wearing a very rumpled gray suit. Even though I was somewhat far away, from my vantage point I could see his face bore a broad kind of lackadaisical smile, frivolous, and child-like but more interesting, he seemed to be holding what looked like a spool of string. I became intrigued by him and craned my neck to look closer. Leading out from his hand there appeared to be what looked like a string that went up into the sky as if he was flying a kite, but when I followed the line of the string up, there was nothing. It just seemed to hang there, a long sweeping curved line suspended in the sky. His stare was directed toward the point in the sky where the string disappeared, but no matter how closely I looked I could detect nothing of substance. I became even more fascinated with this character, wanting to know what his story was and what was this string he held in his hand. He stopped at the corner opposite the bus stop and waited for the light to change. I stood up because I could see he was going to pass right by me and I really wanted to know what was going on with this guy.
The light changed and he proceeded to cross the street directly toward where I stood. The closer he got the harder I looked, but still could not detect anything attached to the end of the string. When he was about five feet from me he stopped suddenly like some great hand was placed in front of him to purposely halt his progress. He turned his head slightly listening closely to something, and then his gaze turned from looking into the sky to me. Our eyes locked and he cocked his head, looking at me curiously. There was a carefree sparkle in his eyes; one that seemed devoid of any worry or problems. He said nothing, but slowly walked toward me holding out his hand that held the spool of string.
"Here, this is for you." he said urging me to take the spool. "Go on, take it. It won't hurt you."
"What is it?" I asked.
"You'll see. It was meant for you. Hold on tight. It'll fly away if you're not careful."
I slowly, apprehensively took the spool from his hand at which point he immediately turned and walked away disappearing around the corner.
"Hey! What do I do with it?" I yelled after him, but he was already gone.