Matthew Howard (1st place. Fiction. Fall 2010 Writing Contest)
Manny gazed down the road, into that bluish haze of pollution that buses often left in their wake and thought to himself, “I hate that smell so much.”
He continued to stare out into the street, noting which cars he wanted the most, and wondering if he would ever get the chance to drive one of them. “Little Red Beemer, nah too fem-sporty and I’d look like a total sissy.” A Corolla passed by with University of Houston tags on it. No way would he be caught with those tags, but a Corolla, that’d be just fine. Pondering how much a Corolla might cost, he noticed a jet black Corvette pass by, chopped low to the road as it glided across the asphalt. Now that was a car… If only he could have it for his own.
A familiar hum and drone sounded to his left: a bus was nearing. Manny peered at the information bar, reading the fluorescent green writing: #87 TIMBER LN. CROSSTOWN. It was time for him to go, this was his bus. He stepped forward, pulling his money out of his right back pocket while doing so. The bus driver, a tall, pale white man glanced at him and nodded, just enough to let Manny know that he had been noticed. The behemoth of a vehicle slowed to a stop, screeching horrendously (the city had money to pay for traffic cameras but when it came to maintenance of bus brakes they turned into the cheapest jerks alive). Unshaken by the caterwauling of tires, Manny stepped onto the small platform of the bus entrance, feeling a blast of cool air as he did. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke, cheap perfume, and body spray: the tell-tale odors of bus-riding folk. Manny was right at home here, whether he wanted it or not.
$1.85. That’s what it cost to take the bus home. Too much, perhaps, since Manny had to ride the bus three times every day: once to get to school, once again to get to work, and from there one last trip to get back home, on the other side of town. It was all too much, averaging at $5.55 a day, $27.25 a week, and that was only because he couldn’t work on weekends. He fed his dollar into the slot and practically threw the change into the open hole for coins, receiving an annoyed grimace from the aged driver. Disregarding this, Manny turned to look for a seat. “Damn,” he muttered under his breath. He gazed longingly into about 30 odd faces; a few of them stared back at him. Begrudgingly, he hauled his large backpack over to the middle of the bus, where he stood with his back to the window that had no seats, the emergency exit. He grasped the dirty, gray strap handle just as the bus driver floored the accelerator and the bus shot forward. The trip home had begun.
As stated before, Manny was practically at home here on the #87 bus. There was nothing that could faze him. With his mind at ease, he began to contemplate once again which cars he wanted the most. Someone’s phone rang; it was coming from the back of the bus. A young black girl began speaking and laughing raucously, louder even than the hum of the bus engine as it trudged up the ramp to merge with the freeway. Manny had always found it interesting that black people made up the majority of the people on the back of the bus, especially given their historic background there. An entire region of the South followed one woman’s example to not sit in the back, and now the whole race had regressed itself wholly to this section, by their own choice. Was it some sort of inbred instinct, or was it just their preference to scope out people? Manny could never figure it out.
The young girl’s conversation had obviously switched to a more foreboding subject; swear words flew long and thick, enough to make a sailor blush. Manny smirked; the elderly white woman sitting opposite the girl looked disdainfully in her direction. The black girl shot her a glance as if to say, “What?!” The Caucasian woman resumed reading her small magazine. “My people,” Manny thought to himself.
He fell into a trance staring out the window at the cars passing by, a product of listening to the hum of the engine with periodic “Shit!” and “Fuck that heffa!”s interrupting his mental process. A Hummer flew by the window pane and Manny blinked hard. He would need something smaller to roll around in…
Manny remembered what his friends had told him: “You need a car bad, we can’t pick you up all the time.” Or at least that was what they should have said, for all they did say. They kept implying that without a car, at age 18, he’d have no shot at keeping a steady girlfriend in college. Manny presumed that this was for the better, but quickly rejected the notion; although no girlfriend would mean he could focus all his attention on his work, he wanted someone to fondle for about an hour a day. That would be nice… was it too much to ask for?
Nonetheless, a car would cause him to spend way more money on gas. And gas today was a joke. The US was going nowhere fast with this wind energy and Barnett Shale natural gas crap, they were still exporting more oil than almost any other country in the world. An image shot into Manny’s head: a large white polar bear with a mouth that was polluted with a shade of what looked like jet black tar was holding an barrel up-side down, as if he was trying to see if there was any more liquid in it. Then a small caption materialized, reading: AMERICA NEED OIL…INVADE IRAN!!! Manny burst into laughter at the thought, and the older lady peered over her magazine again, this time at him. Just to disgust her, he puckered his lips, as if he wanted to kiss her. Her lips tightened and she sternly shook the magazine to straighten it, resuming her reading, probably muttering something about how young people today needed a reality check from God.
Manny continued his contemplation of his own issues at hand. So gas was going to kill him at the pump and force America to invade some other innocent country that was rich with oil. Just then, a metallic red Mustang zipped by, complete with two white racing stripes. Perhaps that was a little too much car for him. Manny reasoned that with a car, his horizons could extend anywhere at any time. He could go to the grocery store and not have to walk a mile to get back home. No longer would he have to worry about sweating while a girl was talking to him. No longer would he pit-out his favorite shirt sleeves with sunk-in deodorant and foulness. No more shivering in the cold while the jerks he labeled friends rode by him staring, knowing it was him in the cold but not wanting to stop their escapade to the mall or the movies. Still he trudged on, vowing that he would leave their sorry behinds in his wake. But then he remembered the red-light cameras that had just been enacted. He chuckled at the thought of his friend Owen, who had been caught speeding by one of them, and got a notice in the mail about two weeks later. But the chuckle died on his lips at the thought of his favorite cousin Jack. He had been killed by some wacko driving 30 miles over the speed limit. The light had turned red; the driver did not slow down, but sped up, right through the intersection, plowing into the front right corner of Jack’s car, sending him into a pole about twelve yards away. Perhaps if Jack had just backed up a few feet, he would still be here, taunting Manny about his inability to drive. But alas, the idiot in the red Mustang just wanted to see if he could get to his destination a little sooner.
Manny hung his head, suddenly sad. The stress of the day was finally taking effect. Glimpsing a flash of blue, he looked toward the window, seeing an ugly navy Prius. Contorting his face in disgust, he watched it creep slowly by the passengers. He wished badly for it to pass faster; those things were so unsightly, may God forbid he ever had to be seen in one of them. Not to mention how big companies had been screwing everything up these past few years. GM went out of business and took the entire city of Detroit with it. BP didn’t put an emergency shutdown switch on their equipment and now this generation would be known as the generation that had soiled one of the largest bodies of water in the hemisphere. It was a crime. Then who could forget the Prius? You could literally be going down a slightly sloping hill and when you mashed the breaks, no response… a crime.
Manny sighed and looked out the window once again. He was four blocks from home. This internal argument he was in would have to wait a few more hours. Taking a deep breath, he looked around one more time. An elderly man was coughing his lungs out at the front of the bus. The elderly woman with the magazine was gone but she had been replaced with a Hispanic woman who had long hair, flowing all the way to her knees. Weird. The black girl was asleep, with the phone stuck to her cheek while she was propped up on the window pane.
“HARLEM ST. AT YEOMAN,” stated the intercom on the bus.
This was Manny’s stop. As he walked down the aisle, he could feel their eyes, as if they were willing him to stay a while longer. Even the man who was asleep with his briefcase under his chin seemed to look lazily at him as he walked. The old nun who clutched her purse to her body a little tighter seemed inviting of him, even. The bus driver nodded at him as he passed by the exit.
That was when it hit Manny: given the mistakes and madness in the world, what did he need a car for? He was already where he wanted to be, or at least where he needed to be in life. He had dug a niche for himself in this bus line, a car would complicate not just his problems, but the problems of the world. It was a surreal feeling; he was walking to his house, but he was leaving his home…
Archives: Fall 2010.