The Lead Up


When the bus didn't leave, I knew destiny was in play. It’s one of those things, like missing a plane. You wonder, why did I miss it? You hear the stories. The 9/11 flight attendant filling in for a coworker. The man sprinting through the airport, arriving at the gate a hair too late (thank God for that). 

That’s how it was on the bus at 11:35 p.m. that Friday. I had checked the transit tracker, left Sue’s at just the right time (didn't want to wait in the cold). The bus arrived promptly. Then it sat parked on Broadway for 15 minutes. Just me and the driver with the engine humming. I could hear the purr, feel its warmth beneath my seat. 

After some time, I called to the driver. “Why are we sitting here?” Admittedly, it was more a whine than a question. He eyed me through the rearview, said nothing. Typical. If Sue were there, she would have said, “Totally.” As if it were totally typical for a Chicago bus driver to be sitting idle with the engine humming when all you really want is to be home in bed. 

Sue understands things. She understands me. We've been friends since the second grade, ever since my dad took us roller skating and the roller rink was closed. Growing up, our families vacationed, socialized, spent Christmas Eve together. She moved to Chicago first, after college. I moved there for grad school three years later. 

In Chicago, Sue lived about a mile from me. Clark to Broadway on the 36. At her apartment that night, we'd ordered takeout from Joy's Noodles and watched Elf on DVD. I'd seen it with a friend and her mom in the theater the previous Christmas. The sound was off. Every character sounded like a munchkin, and we couldn't tell if the film was warped or really supposed to sound like that. 

It was funnier the second time. 

I had to open at my retail job at 9 a.m. As the bus finally started moving, I wondered if I could be more like Elf, if I even had it in me. It felt like life was becoming a bed of pasta soaked in maple syrup, and I didn't know why. I should just eat it. But I didn't want to. My manager would ride my ass over something stupid in the morning, she always did. And yet I kept working there. I felt this pull of inertia, a subtle subversion kicking in beneath the surface. I couldn't account for it. I didn't know how to stop it, either. 

A block to go, I pulled the chord to signal the driver. At Webster, I got off. The manager of Blockbuster Video stood on the corner, smoking a cigarette outside the store. He was obese. Once he had told me his ankles were permanently sprained because of his weight. I tried to fathom that every time I saw him, even now. I gave him a small wave, did a hop-skip to cross Webster before the light turned. 

What if the bus hadn't sat parked on Broadway for 15 minutes? It's a question that could haunt my dreams. But it doesn't. 

Stepping off the curb, I pulled up my hood, steeling myself against the wind. Clouds of warm breath streamed through my nostrils, colliding with the frosty air. I saw the car coming up the street. As it prepared to turn, I thought the driver saw me in the crosswalk. "I'm right here," I said in my mind. "I'm right here." And then more frantically, "I'm right HERE!" 

I raised my hand, shielding my eyes from the glare. In that moment, time froze.

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