Jason Lawrence Bell
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01-08-19 Bus Bench


“Seems like summer is finally leaving” said the old man to the stranger on the bus bench. The stranger covered by a dark hoodie just nodded. “Today was the first day I had to wear a coat. Winter is around the corner” the old man continued. The stranger gave a half nod, barely acknowledging the old man. This did not deter the old man and he bluntly stated “don’t take the bus to Sheldon Towers, there are too many people and you would leave a mess. Take the bus to Culver Bridge. The fall to the water would do the job and you would just float away. No muss, no fuss.” The stranger immediately turned to the old man. The old man could now see the face of the young stranger with scared determined eyes. He was in a mood that seemed as dark as his hoodie. The stranger demanded “what are you talking about?” This time it was the old man who nodded back.

The stranger thought, ‘how does this old creep know so much. Only I knew my plans. Has the old man been following me?’ The old man spoke “the hoodie is a good idea, but those white pants will show everything. You may pee or poop yourself and police photos will easily show that.” The stranger looked down at his pants and he knew the old man was right. The stranger stood up and walked the short distance to his apartment and changed to black pants.

Then he returned to the bus bench. The old man was still there and he nodded in approval. Then the old man stated “where’s your final letter? You know the ‘tell them why, make them understand for once, explain your sad truth’ kind of letter.” “Yes” thought the stranger, “I need to make them all sorry.” Again, the stranger got up and ran back to his apartment with a new mission. It took him many attempts to finally have the perfect tell-all statement in his own handwriting. It became late in the day and the buses stopped running, so he had to wait for the next fateful day.

When the stranger returned to the bus bench, he was surprised by the sight of the old man as he sat on the bench. “Don’t you ever leave this bench?” the stranger blurted out not really wanting an answer. “Oh yes I love to ride the buses. From this stop you can go anywhere in this beautiful city, and if you go to the airport you can go anywhere in the world. I like the idea that from this bench the world is available to me”. The stranger didn’t agree, “all these roads lead to heartbreak and misery.” He corrected the old man. The old man was firm. “Some roads may lead to bad things but most roads don’t. The art of life is picking the right roads.” The stranger was not impressed. The old man continued “roads can be taken to reach a new destination or taken to leave an old one.” The stranger didn’t respond to the old man. They could see their bus was arriving.

The stranger was wearing his dark clothes and had his letter in his top pocket. The old man said “I should come with you. I won’t try to stop you, I promise. This is completely your decision. I can help you and make certain your letter gets to the right people.” The stranger agreed to his help just to stop him talking. The old man noticed they were getting off the bus at Culver Bridge, so he knew the stranger was listening to some of his words. But there was a crowd on the bridge.

Something was attracting the crowd’s attention near the middle of the bridge. The old man began pushing thru the crowd and encouraged the stranger to follow. When they reached the front, they could see a young boy holding to the side of the railing, screaming at the crowd to stay back and threatening to jump. The boy could not have been more than ten years old. The old man noticed that the stranger was startled and was looking sympathetically at the boy. He spoke softly to the old man, “he’s too young.” The old man quickly responded, “you’re too young”. The stranger for the first time began to tear up. The old man whispered “only you can help him. You know what to do”. The stranger looked deep into the old man’s eyes and knowingly turned and slowly walked up to the boy and tried not to startle him. Without a word he handed the boy his letter to read.

The boy was confused, but could sense that the stranger was sincere, he also could see the pain in the stranger’s face. The boy took the letter and as a last act of curiosity, opened it and read it. Tears filled the eyes of both. The stranger offered his hand to the boy. The boy instead fell into the arms of the stranger. The stranger picked him up and as they both sobbed, he carried him away from the bridge. The crowd was dispersing. The stranger looked back but couldn’t find the old man. He took the boy to the first place he could find to sit and rest with the boy.

The stranger noticed they were sitting on a bus bench. He again scanned the crowd for the old man but he was nowhere to be seen. The stranger and the boy eventually sat calmly on the bench and the stranger instantly knew what to do. He spoke to the boy for first time, “this bus bench can lead to anywhere in the world. We can go to new places or leave old places. Let’s take some new roads with new adventures.” The boy didn’t understand but it sounded perfect. So, they stepped on the next bus. This time with hope. Peace***