When I got on the bus in the Midwestern college town, nearly all the seats were taken. I pushed my daypack into the overhead bin and looked at the woman stretched out across both seats below. She got the hint and pulled herself entirely into the window seat.
She was a white girl, younger than I was, probably in her early 20s. She had lank blond hair down to her shoulders and flat bangs. She had the blank face of someone who’d already been on the bus for a long time.
Our first rest break was at a truck stop deep in the flatlands of Kansas. I used a flush toilet in the truck stop in hopes of avoiding the smelly, swaying restroom on the bus, then filled my water bottle with ice from the soda machine. I saw my seatmate standing outside, drinking a Red Bull.
Once back on the bus, I read, listened to music through my headphones, and dozed as the prairie passed outside the windows. My seatmate had nothing to say.
We had another rest break before we hit Colorado. This time the bus stopped between a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell. I dutifully used the flush toilet, put ice in my bottle, and bought two bean burritos for my dinner. I took my food back on the bus and reclaimed my seat.
When my seatmate returned, she had a Red Bull in her hand.
I wonder where she had to go to get that, I thought as I stood up to let her back into her chair.
It was dark when we stopped again. I did my routine of restroom and ice, looking forward to closing my eyes and trying to get some sleep while the bus rolled through the night. When I returned to the bus, my seatmate was already there, yet another Red Bull in hand. I didn’t see how she’d be getting any sleep.
That’s when she started talking.
She was coming from Chicago or Des Moines or Omaha or one of those other big Midwestern cities. She was going to Utah, to Salt Lake City.
Her speech was rapid, choppy, evidence of all the caffeine coursing through her veins.
Her boyfriend was in Salt Lake City. He’d moved there. She was going to visit him, to surprise him. He didn’t know she was on her way.
I kept my mouth shut. There was no sense discouraging her now. However, I wondered if surprising a boyfriend who’d moved halfway across the country was such a good idea. What if my seatmate arrived to find him shacked up with another woman? What if she discovered him satisfying his previously secret bisexual curiosity? What if he was doing drugs or dealing drugs or cooking drugs and she walked into the middle of illegal activity? Personally, I wouldn’t want to surprise a boyfriend (or girlfriend) living in another state. I’d want to give a person fair warning if I was on my way.
I don’t remember how I managed to untangle myself from her. Maybe I just told her I needed to get some sleep. When I closed my eyes, hers were still open, staring out the window into the darkness, the land invisible in the night. Every time I woke up, she was in the same position.
We arrived in Denver to make our connections just as the sun began to peek over the horizon.
I must have gone to the ticket counter to find out which numbered door to line up in front of. Although my seatmate and I were both going to Salt Lake, we were standing in different lines.
She approached me, yet another can of Red Bull in her hand. She was screechy and twitchy from some combination of exhaustion and caffeine.
Why are you in this line? she demanded. Aren’t you going to Salt Lake City too?
I must have mentioned to her that I’d be passing through Salt Lake on my way to the Pacific Northwest. I couldn’t tell if she was worried about me being in the wrong line or if she was concerned for herself.
I explained I was in the line the woman at the ticket counter had told me to get in. I conjectured we were in different lines because her final destination was Salt Lake City, and I was just passing through. My explanation seemed to satisfy her, and she went back to stand with her luggage. Shortly, we boarded our separate busses, and I never saw her again.
I’ve always wondered what she found when she knocked on her boyfriend’s door.