Authors: Liz Garton Scanlon
s we step off the bus, the line that we're in sort of clumps up and slows down with everybody waiting for luggage. Paul and I didn't bring anything except for our backpacks, so we don't really have to stop, and it's a good thing too. If the Greyhound station in Loomer made me jittery and sad, the one in Houston may just knock me all the way out. It's really hot, even though we're under a great big concrete shade awning, and the buses are lined up, tight and close. Plus, there's a thick, sick smell in the air that's a mixture of oil on the pavement and bus exhaust and half-smoked cigarettes and dirt.
“Let's just keep on moving,” says Paul to my back, and I try to, but people are pushing out of, like, three buses at once, and it's crowded.
I look back over my shoulder so I can actually see Paul. I want to look him in the eye to make sure he's with me. But instead what I see is a fence, a high metal fence, stretched all around us like we're in jail or something. And suddenly I feel very, very bad. Weak. Kind of hungry
but kind of nauseous at the same time, with a tight sourness up near my throat.
“Our Father,” I whisper automatically, like Mama might if she were here, “who art in heavenâ” And just then someone presses up against me, and it's not Paul. It's a guy, and there's another guy on my left side too, and they walk with me as I walk. It's like they were waiting for my bus to arrive and they've come to pick me up.
“Got a cigarette, pretty lady?” asks the first guy, which is kind of strange, since he's holding a cigarette, or part of a cigarette, up near his mouth already.
“I'm sorry. I don't smoke,” I say, and he laughs, as if that's funny. Also, he's standing really too close to me. I want to scootch away, but then I'd bump into the guy on my other side, who's shuffling along and not saying anything. He's just staring at me, which is almost worse.
I look back toward Paul again, and there are a couple of people between us now, and it's hot, and there's Cigarette Man in my face again. My heart starts to bubble like water on the stove.
“Whatcha afraid of, huh? You're a nervous little cat, aren't you?” he says, and he's right, I'm scared. I'm scared of him and his heavy plaid shirt in summer and his yellow teeth. I'm scared of being stared at and I'm scared of
getting caught and I'm scared of not finding Mama. Or of finding her and she doesn't want to be found. Honestly, that would be the worst of all, wouldn't it?
I look up at Cigarette Man, actually into his eyes. I want to say, “Yes, I'm a nervous little cat and I want to get out of this line and out of this bus station and away from you. I don't know what in heaven's name I was thinking, leaving Loomer. I don't like Houston, I've never been to Florida, and I don't even know exactly where I'm going!”
But instead I say, “Excuse me.” And y'know what? He steps aside. He steps aside, and I push and rush ahead, past some other folks in line and through the door into the station, where it may be cool and clean but there's the same oily smell and my heart's still flying.
“Paul,” I whisper, because I've given up on getting much attention from God right now. “Paul?” And I finally find him, on his way inside, with a terrible look on his face, and I know why. Because right in front of him, there in the doorway next to Staring Guy, is a police officer.
The next thing you know, I am looking up. Up at Paul and up at clumps of people and plastic chairs and bright lights. Up from the hard, cold floor and out the windows
at the awning and the buses and the high metal fence.
“WhatÂ .Â .Â .” I pull myself up to sitting, but then I promptly lurch to one side and throw up. Right there on the floor of the Houston Greyhound station.
Paul squats down and hands me a red bandana that he's dipped in a water bottle. “Dang, Ivy,” he says. “Are you okay? I mean, duh, no, you're not okay. Here, use this. Are you thirsty? Are you, umÂ .Â .Â .Â I don't know quite what to do here.”
“OhÂ .Â .Â .Â Oh, mercyÂ .Â .Â .” I take the bandana and wipe my lips as my eyes dart around, looking for trouble. “What happened to the police officer?” I ask, because all I can thinkânever mind the hard, cold floor and the fainting and the throw-up and everythingâis that we could be in some serious trouble here.
Paul doesn't answer. He just hands me his water and then takes his own turn looking around.
I take tiny sips like I would if I were home sick, tucked into bed with my mama tending to me. Paul uses the bandana to wipe up most of the throw-up and tosses the whole thing in the big trash bin right behind him before helping me slowly, carefully stand up.
A few folks stare at us, and one woman in a blue dress and high heels even shakes her head, like I've done
something I should be ashamed of, which I guess maybe I have.
“The police officer?” I ask again, once I'm solid on my feet.
“He was just a security guard,” says Paul. “He hustled those creepy guys along and he went with them. And then you fainted,” he says.
“I did. I really did faint clean away,” I say.
“Yeah. Wow,” says Paul, and we stop talking and look straight into each other's eyes. I don't know for certain what mine look like, but Paul's look scared for the first time since we left Loomer this morning.
The plan is to do the same thing at the Houston ticket counter that we did in Loomerâbuy our tickets separately, one-way, without a fuss. This time I'm going first. That's the plan. So after I catch my breath, I walk through the waiting room and out to the main lobby, where they sell tickets. I have to pass another security guard to get there, but she doesn't even look my way, and it feels pretty good being ignored. Everything would all be well and good, except that when I go for the front pocket on my pack, it's already unzipped and my money's gone. It was in there, in a little plastic pouch with a rainbow on
itâa birthday gift from Kimmy. It was right there, but now it's gone!
“Hang on a sec,” I say to the woman at the ticket counter. I turn around. Where is Paul? My thoughts speed up again and my hands shake. Where
Paul? Is he still back in the waiting room? How could my money be gone? Did it fall out when I fainted? Did I leave it on the bus? Did somebody take it? It's a lot of moneyâmore than two hundred dollarsâand I need itâ
need it, to get out of here!
I need to go back out to where we got off the bus but there's a long line of people in the way now, waiting to go through security themselves.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” I say, running past them.
I hear someone mutter, “There's a line, girl.” And then the security guard says, “You're in a hurry. Ticket?” But I don't have a ticket, obviously, because I don't have any money! And she's big and stern-looking and she wears a gun.
“I lost my money,” I say. “I need to get back through here and find my pouch. IÂ .Â .Â . I Â .Â .Â .”
“How about your last ticket?” she asks.
“My last ticket?”
“Yeah. Your ticket. Your receipt. If you just got off a bus, you must have one. Otherwise, step aside.” For a second I think that maybe I could run past her, but there's the big sternness and the gun, and everything in my body instantly stops and sticks, my insides and outsides, everything as heavy as rocks. My feet push off the floor in slow motion, and I step aside. The guard turns to the next person in line, a guy who's shaking his head but not looking at me. Nobody's looking.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation,” I whisper, and I swing my backpack aroundâmy heavy-as-rocks backpackâand reach into the front pocket againâthe one where my pouch is supposed to beâand there's the crumpled receipt for the ticket from Loomer to Houston, thank you God and all the angels.
“Here!” I say, a little too loudly. “Hey! HereâI found it!”
The guard nods and says, “Go on, then,” and I do. I rush past the guard and through the waiting room, looking for a flash of familiar color on the groundâmy money, the rainbow pouchâbut all I see are feet and bags and empty soda bottles. The door to the outside where the buses wait is open. People are coming both in and out, and I bump up against them till I make it through. But there is just a row of identical Greyhounds out here, and I can't tell which one was ours. Maybe ours is gone.
Maybe our driver, Magdalena, is gone. I look down. I look back and around and down again.
I back up into the wall of the building and slide down, hard, until I'm sitting on the dirt-black ground. I'm back to being heavy as rocks. And from this angle it's easy to see my pouch, nearly pushed off the concrete platform. Right there, the shiny rainbow! I push up, first to my hands and knees and then to just barely standing, and I rush to the pouch, my pouch, from Kimmy. And it's empty. The zipper is wide open and the pouch is completely 100 percent empty. The moneyâall the moneyâis really and truly gone.
My eyes sting and blur, but even still, when I look around, out past the buses and through the high metal fence, I see a street sign that reads
. I'm not even kidding. Main Street. Main Street is supposed to be quaint. And safe. And quiet. Main Street is in Loomer, Texas, which, let's face it, is where I should be right now.
I sink back down right then and there in the middle of the pavement and drop my head into my hands. Was it those two creepy guys who took the money? The smell of buses seeps through my fingers no matter how deeply I press my face into my palms. It really doesn't matter who took it. There is nothing, not a thing in the world, I can
do about the smell or the heat or the money or my mama.
Pastor Lou's voice booms through my head. “I will never leave or forsake you.” Ruth learned that from God, and Mama was supposed to learn it from Ruth. But she didn't. She left, and I am forsaken. I am forsaken and scared and dirty and dead broke.
“Ivy?” Paul's voice is a little too loud. It surprises me. “God, Ivy. I couldn't find you. Anywhere. You kind of freaked me out. What are you doing out here?” Paul stands in front of me holding two sodas. “You want a root beer?” he asks when I don't answer. “I was thinking it might make you feel a little better.” He holds one out to me.
“It's so much worse than you know,” I say. “I didn't just faint and throw up. My money's gone, Paul. Somebody took it. All of it. I don't have a dime, and we're stuck in Houston, of all places, and I don't know what on God's green earth we're gonna do.”
“Oh no. Oh, God. You're kidding,” says Paul. “I mean, you're not kidding, obviously. Oh, man, this sucks. What happened?” He's standing above me still, but his shoulders slouch and his head hangs.
“I don't know, really. I went to buy my ticket, but my money pouch was just plain gone. And here it is, cleaned
all the way out.” I hold it up as proof. “I am so, so sorry, Paul.”
sorry. This whole crackpot scheme has gotten kind of out of hand. I mean, I thought it would be funâsaving your mom, seeing the space shuttle, the whole deal. I don't think I took it seriously enough.” Paul drops his backpack on the concrete by my feet, cracks open his root beer, and slides down next to me.