Waiting

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It was a busy street where it all happened.  At least that’s where my earliest memory begins.

You know the kind of street, where cars whiz by fast, people of every description come, go, or stop a while, and the air is filled with more smells and sounds than the senses can take in.

bus stopWe waited in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of the concrete at the base of the brick building next to the bus stop.  There was an almost plaza-like feel to the place, with the large open paved area squeezed in among the streets, sidewalks, and tall brick buildings all around.  There was no sidewalk between this particular building and the busy street it nestled against.  Pedestrians trying their luck on the street side of the building took their lives in their hands.  I was surprised by how many people did that.

It was a very busy bus stop.  A nonstop tide of cars, buses, and people came and went constantly.

I don’t know how long we waited, but it sure seemed like a very long time.  People came and went, buses came and went, and yet we waited, always waiting.  Would our bus never come?

My mind felt like I was looking through a fog.  Everything was confusing, my memory somehow lost in a haze I just couldn’t quite see through.

“Why was I here?  Where are we going?  What bus are we waiting for?  And, why won’t that bus ever seem to come?”

I remember looking around at the people of our group.  There was a certain familiarity about them.  Standing about, watching for that bus that never seemed to come, watching the people come and go.  Idle chat seemed to be the activity of the day, leaning casually against a wall, sitting on the ground with backs pressed against the side of the building, or just standing around.

This was “our” spot, somehow.  I don’t know how.  It just had that familiarity about it, as if we were always here in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of that building’s wall, waiting.

I knew that I know these people, but I couldn’t find them in my hazy memory.  Rubbing my eyes and shaking the clarity back into my head didn’t work.

Who are these people?  I know them, so why don’t I know them?

I couldn’t even tell who among the crowds of people gathered, forever shifting and changing as people got on and off buses, arriving and leaving, were a part of our group.  Was our group small?  The four or five people I suspected might really be all there was to our group?  Or were there more, as I also suspected, but with a sense of confusing doubt?

There was a couple sitting with their backs against the wall, chatting and seeming oblivious to the world around, except for the occasional glances at people in the crowd.  I thought of them as the “Casual Pair”. A boy and a girl, both teenagers, though I couldn’t place their ages any more than I could their faces or identities.

There was the “Lurker”.  He was a young man who just couldn’t quite seem to decide where he wanted to be.  He stood leaning against the wall a while, then pushed off and meandered through the crowd to stand somewhere else.  He watched the crowd, the cars, the members of the group, and kept wandering to the edge of the road to look up and down for the bus.

The worst was when he looked at me.  That was when I got the feel that he was lurking more than he was waiting.  At those moments the confusion spun a little faster inside my head, making me dizzy.

I got the odd vibe from others that they too were part of the group.  It was a vague feeling, like that feeling someone is watching you when you are sure you are alone. I’d turn to look, trying to identify who in the crowd the vibe was coming from, but, like those phantom movements you catch in the corner of your eye, they just seemed to melt into the crowd, unidentifiable.  That just gave me the heebie-jeebies and made the fog of confusion eddy and swirl in my mind.

I didn’t know what to call them, or even how to think of them.  The “Crowd Phantoms” might come closest.

And then there was “The Man”, the watcher.  He was older, though I couldn’t tell how much older.  He didn’t look terribly much older, but he felt a great deal older.  His dark hair hung in longish strands to each side of his face, a short black beard, and Genghis Khan-like moustache.  He wasn’t a bad looking man, but when I looked at him I felt darkness, the darkness of his hair, his eyes, and a dark kindness too.  He watched the crowds, the traffic … and us.

He liked to kneel down on one knee a lot.  That struck me as a little strange, but somehow seemed entirely normal too.  I sensed a feeling of authority about him.  I suspected he was the leader of our group; that somehow he was charged with keeping us together and all accounted for.  Was he a protector looking after us?  A captor guarding us against escape?

The more I looked around at our group, at the throngs of people coming and going, taking no notice of us, that we were a group, the greater my confusion grew.

Why did no one seem to notice that we were a group?  Why did I even care?

Who were we?  Who was I?

The fog in my mind eddied, swirled, and thickened.

My mind spun, though my head seemed to stay still.  I started feeling sick.

A frantic feeling of panic started in my gut, slowly snaking its insidious way up, growing, swelling inside me until I choked on it.  It seemed to fill my throat, blocking it, preventing me from breathing.

Everything felt wrong somehow.  The light was wrong, the smells, the sounds.

I glanced at The Man, wondering if he could see the panic in my eyes, willing him not to see.  Somehow, I felt that would be a bad thing.

He looked up, kneeling again, and smiled at me.  He turned his head away again to watch the people coming off a bus as it rolled to a stop and opened its yawning doors.

I had to get out of here.  I didn’t know why, or to where.

It was just a niggling feeling at first; that urge to bolt, to run, to make a break for it.

The feelings grew.  Panic, confusion, nausea, and the urge to flee; they filled me, overwhelmed me, making my head feel like it would explode if I didn’t get out of there.

I watched.  I waited.  The waiting seemed as endless as our forever wait for the bus that never came.

And, when no one seemed to be noticing me; that was when I made my move.  I ran.

I didn’t really run, at least not at first.  That would have been too conspicuous, bringing unwanted attention to me.  I ducked behind people, moving with the crowd, hiding behind first one person and then a next as I slowly made my way away from the bus stop.

I kept careful watch of The Group as they became more distant, afraid someone might look my way.  I especially watched The Man, terrified he would sense my intention, carefully watching that his attention was on something else.

The next thing I remembered was being in a strange and entirely deserted place that had a confusing familiar feel to it.  There was a field, where perhaps kids played sports, though there were no goals or nets or anything else to suggest it was a field for sports.  There was a wooden structure.  It had a narrow L shaped building that perhaps housed groundskeeper’s tools, a canteen, or something else.  The roof of that little building filled in the rest of the square, covering a little concrete patio filled with rows of benches.

Did people eat here?  Was it some sort of amphitheater, like the kind you find at some campgrounds?

I had the strange feeling that I had been here before.  With it came a vague sense of horses, although there were no signs that horses had ever been in this place.

The fog of confusion still filled my mind.  Even the memories of The Group and the bus stop seemed to be growing insubstantial, evaporating, and disappearing like the memories from before the bus stop did.

Scared and alone, I hoped The Group was looking for me, that they would come here and find me and take me away from this place.  I longed to see the face of The Man, the reassurance of his ever watchful presence.

I was terrified The Group was looking for me, that they would come here and find me and take me away from this place.  I dreaded to see the face of The Man; that he would come to claim me and take me back to the bus stop, back within the fold of The Group.

I wanted to disappear within the folds of myself, become invisible, become … not.

Night came quickly, too quickly.

I huddled into myself, wrapping my arms tightly about myself, and lay down on one of the cool hard wooden benches.  I fell asleep.

I awoke with a start to a face close to mine.  My heart lurched, gripped by fear.  I almost screamed.

“They found me!” my panicked mind cried.  I looked around desperately for The Man, Lurker, and Casual Pair.  A part of me hoped for even a glimpse of one of the Crowd Phantoms; that I was found and my flight was finished.  I could go back to simply waiting, forever waiting for that bus that never came.

The thought tore at me, filled me with dread.  I was terrified of being found, being brought back to rejoin The Group.  Where were we going?  And why did that bus never come?

I moved to bolt, to flee, to make a run for it.  Something about that bus, the bus stop, and The Man terrified me.

Gentle hands held my shoulders.

I looked up into the face.  He was older than Lurker, younger than The Man.  His eyes and ruddy face were filled with concern.  His light brown, almost blond hair had a slight curl to it, giving it a softer look.

He stared at my face, into my eyes.

“Are you ok?”  I could hear the worry straining his voice.

I didn’t answer.  I couldn’t answer.  I felt frozen, unable to move, to talk, a part of the bench.

I saw that he could see the fear in my face.

“Are you lost?” he asked, “hurt?”

I stared back mutely, unable to respond with anything more than a blink.

“What are you so afraid of?”

He looked around, then back to me, staring into my eyes as though if he stared hard enough he might see the answers.

I shook my head, trying to clear the fog of confusion.  Where were my memories?  Why couldn’t I remember anything before the bus stop?  Why where the memories even of that place, The Group, slipping away?

I looked past him, dreading seeing any of The Group, hoping and fearing seeing the face of The Man.  I wanted this over, to be back to the place I knew, the only place I knew, the bus stop.  I was terrified The Man would find me and take me back there.

I saw people beyond this man’s face.  They looked worried too.  They shifted uncomfortably, perhaps embarrassed for me.  They held no familiarity.  They were not part of The Group.  I was safe, for now.

I looked back at this man’s face, the “New Man” I thought of him as.  I sensed caring, concern.  I felt safer with him.  I liked him for making me feel safer.  I felt strangely drawn to him and sensed he felt the same towards me.

“I’ll be right back,” he said to me, staring deep into my eyes.  “Don’t move.  I just need to talk to my group.”

And they were his group, I could sense that.  They were together, a family perhaps, or friends, or maybe a group like The Group.  Only this group didn’t make me feel confused or lost in a memory-eating fog.

He walked over to the other people.  They huddled around him as they talked.  I caught snatches of conversation, words.

“Lost.”

“We can’t.”

“Scared.”

“But, what if.”

“Have to.”

“No.”

They were going to leave me here, alone.  I longed for that solitude, was terrified of that solitude.

“Please don’t leave me,” my heart cried while my mind begged them to just go and leave me alone.

He came back to me, knelt down, gripping my shoulders again in that firm but gentle grip.

“We won’t leave you here,” he said.  “I won’t.”

I hadn’t moved this whole time, still laying there with my arms hugging myself desperately, folding into myself and trying to vanish.

He gently sat me up, sitting beside me and putting one arm gently around me in a protective embrace.

We sat there for a long time.  We talked.  His group became impatient, but continued to wait at a distance.

I can’t remember what we talked about, not a single word of the conversation.  I only remember that we talked for a really long time.  Sometimes we got up and walked off into the field as we talked.  Sometimes we came back and sat on the bench again.  My mind is still full of holes, hazy mists of fog hiding my memories and spinning me in a web of confusion.

Night came again, much too soon.

Finally, he looked at me gently and said, “Let’s go.”

He led me to the group.  They all looked at me, their faces reflecting his concern.

My heart lifted.  The “New Man” wouldn’t let “The Man” find me.  He’d keep me safe, hide me.  And if he did come for me, “New Man” would come for me, rescue me, and take me back again.  I was his now.  I think I love him, though I only just met him.

We started to move towards the road.

Then I saw him, The Man, his smiling face staring down at me.  Just his face, floating in the air above, there but not.

“No!” I wanted to cry.  Tears rushed to my eyes, burning them.  I wanted to run.

New Man looked down at me.

“I’m here,” he said, taking my hand in his, the warmth of it flowing to me with a feeling of safety.

It wasn’t enough.

I could still see The Man, his smiling eyes, his lank longish black hair, his beard.

“You found her!”  I heard The Man’s voice happily call out.

I wanted to hide, to cry, and to beg New Man to not let The Man see me.

“She’s safe,” The Man called to someone.  “Everybody, she’s safe, she’s here!”

Then I saw their faces, Lurker, Casual Pair.  I saw the bus stop with the busy crowds of people who I could never pick the Crowd Phantoms out of, those who I suspected might be part of our group, but just didn’t know.

I saw the anger in the New Man’s face, protectiveness, the desperate need to hold on to me.  And at that very last moment, the terrible anguish of someone who has just lost everything in their life that mattered.

Suddenly, I was back at the bus stop as though I’d never left it.

Casual Pair leaned against the wall, chatting idly, their occasional glances towards me somehow feeling nervous now.

Lurker leaned casually against the wall, wandered to the edge of the street to watch for the bus, meandered through the crowd, ever lurking, careful now to not glance in my direction at all.  I sensed a new jitteriness about him that wasn’t there before.

The Man knelt on one knee, watching the crowds, watching the traffic and the buses, and watching us.  His glances towards me seemed guarded now, a fear lurking behind the smile.

I looked around, unsure.  How did I get here?

I spotted New Man at the edge of the plaza bus stop.  He stood motionless, staring at me, his face filled with concern, longing, and confusion.

I knew he was afraid to approach.  Afraid of The Man?  That I would reject him?

“Please come and take me away from here,” I begged silently, my lips as frozen as my ability to speak or act.

I watched him watch me, both of us desperate, both of us yearning to approach the other, both of us frozen in place.

I knew he wanted desperately to take me away from here, to rescue me from this place, from the endless wait for the bus that never came.

I knew he couldn’t, that he was powerless to do anything, that The Man was ever watching, watching me more closely than ever before.

I turned away from New Man.  I couldn’t watch anymore, bear witness to the helpless concern in his eyes, on his face.

I longed to run, to make a break for it.  Fogs of confusion eddied around in my mind, eating my memories, dissolving them into wisps of insubstantial fog.  I was losing that place, the hard wooden benches, the feeling I was there before in a place I don’t think I’d ever seen before, the vague sense of horses.  I was losing New Man’s group, though I occasionally glimpsed them hovering beyond the crowds of people coming and going for the bus, carefully staying beyond the plaza.

I wandered towards the road, the cars, the buses constantly coming and stopping and leaving again after belching passengers and gobbling up new ones.

I looked up and down the road, cars whizzing by, buses barreling past unstoppable and not stopping.

I thought about throwing myself in front of one of those buses that never stopped.  Was one of them ours?  Was that why it never seemed to come, but everyone else’s did?

I sat down on the curb instead.  The Man came and sat down beside me.  He talked to me.  He talked to me of love and loss, games and happy times.  He talked of losing me and finding me.  I have no idea what he said or what we talked about.  It’s all lost in the memory-eating fog.

I remember his hand accidentally touching mine, his keeping it there after, feeling his entire body trembling through that hand.  Was it fear?  Relief?  Something else?

I felt confused, lost.  I just wanted to run away.

Why did no one seem to notice my distress?  New Man’s desperate looks my way?  That we were a group, together?  That we were here always waiting for a bus that never came?

Then I came to realize.  They didn’t see us.  They just didn’t see us, nobody did.  We were invisible to them, a part of the crowd coming and going, but ourselves never moving.  Why?

“See us!” I wanted to scream.  “Why don’t you just look at us and see us!?”

“The bus is here,” The Man said.

“Finally,” Lurker spat.

Casual Pair got up and hurried for the bus, its yawning doors waiting for us, its dark interior waiting to gobble us up.

I felt swept up in the tide of people moving for the bus, unable to stop my forward movement.

New Man took a desperate step forward, craning to see me through the crowd, one hand silently reaching for me, his face twisted with concern and desperate need.

The Man smiled down at me as I was swept up into the bus with the tide of people, following Lurker and Casual Pair, unable to stop the tide of people that seemed to push me forward, forcing me onto the bus.

I turned back, taking one last look at New Man’s sad face as the yawning doors closed behind me.

He watched the bus lurch away and speed up down the street.

I watched him through the window, desperate.

“Save me,” I whispered.

It was a busy street where it all happened.  At least that’s where my earliest memory begins.

You know the kind of street, where cars whiz by fast, people of every description come, go, or stop a while, and the air is filled with more smells and sounds than the senses can take in.

We waited in the sometimes shelter and sometimes shade of the concrete at the base of the brick building next to the bus stop.  There was an almost plaza-like feel to the place, with the large open paved area squeezed in among the streets, sidewalks, and tall brick buildings all around.  There was no sidewalk between this particular building and the busy street it nestled against.  Pedestrians trying their luck on the street side of the building took their lives in their hands.  I was surprised by how many people did that.

It was a very busy bus stop.  A nonstop tide of cars, buses, and people came and went constantly.

I don’t know how long we waited, but it sure seemed like a very long time.  People came and went, buses came and went, and yet we waited, always waiting.  Would our bus never come?

My mind felt like I was looking through a fog.  Everything was confusing, my memory somehow lost in a haze I just couldn’t quite see through.

“Why was I here?  Where are we going?  What bus are we waiting for?  And, why won’t that bus ever seem to come?”

I looked around.  Casual Pair sat against the wall chatting, Lurker meandered through the crowd.  The Man looked at me, smiled.  I spun my head to look, a Crowd Phantom?  But I could not pick anyone out of the crowd.

On the edge of the plaza-like bus stop a ruddy faced man watched me with concern in his eyes and face.  His light brown, almost blond hair had a slight curl to it, making it seem softer.

I didn’t know him, but he somehow felt familiar.

The confusion grew as I looked about, at the cars and buses, the people, The Group, the man watching with such worried eyes.  I had a vague feeling that he was an outsider; that he didn’t belong and shouldn’t be here.  I sensed that he was here for me, the tickle of the feeling that almost wasn’t there, of a bond between this strange man and me. “New Man,” the name came unbidden to my mind.

Why didn’t he approach?  Why didn’t anyone seem to notice him, us, to see?

A tiny twisted knot of fear began in my stomach.  It slithered its way up, growing, filling me, and choking me.

I wanted to make a run for it, to bolt.

Would that bus never come?

WaitingBy L. V. Gaudet – © March 2010

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