Portrait | A.K.
The bus stops with a squeal and a pop. Warning beeps sound and hydraulics release in a piffft. Over a loud speaker a woman’s voice calls out a number and a street, and so the bus is named.
It’s the right bus, his bus. He takes it across the city often. He climbs on and shows his pass. He walks the aisle, and finds a place to stand. No one recognizes him though he sees familiar faces.
His features are unique; startling light-blue, electric eyes, and high-contrast salt and pepper hair. He’s shorter than average and slender. His face is youthful though he’s middle-aged. The glasses he wears have slim frames. The clothes he wears are unassuming. He is quiet.
He sways as the bus lifts and rolls forward again. Its windows offer a squinted view of The City. Both the streets and the sidewalks are busy, but not overcrowded. He recognizes the shops, knows their hours of business and his favorite menu items. He feels the rhythm of The City in a way that few ever will. He’s studied it, and though he rides today, he’s walked every street, and turned down every corner. He knows The City.
A stranger might ask him how to get to the Center, and he would happily respond with directions punctuated by clearly described landmarks and optional routes.
A stranger might ask him his opinion for sights to see, and he would stumble, and evade, and answer a non-answer.
The electric cables overhead rattle as the bus hits a rough patch of asphalt. There are buds in his ears, but he keeps the volume low. They don’t block out the street sounds. They are tinny, nondescript, functional. He knows the music, and his mind fills the gaps when the audible queues fall faint. He constructs the waves from memory and they carry him over the hills and through the turns.
Audiophiles envy the equipment he’s left at home, but he doesn’t need it.
A friend might ask him about a band. He would tell the details of their history, where they’re playing next, and which of their albums is most critically acclaimed.
A friend might ask him what song he likes best. He would stutter, and mumble, and say something noncommittal.
The automatic voice announces the crossroads at the next stop. People file on and people file off. He makes room. There is a rustling of jackets and footsteps, a loud complaint, and a conversation between the bus driver and a woman short of change.
He ducks and leans to expand his view through the window, and sees the old theatre on the corner. He’s seen the movie they’re playing. Every scene is a moment he can recall at will as well as the actors’ names, the cost of the production, how much the movie grossed to date, and whether or not a sequel is scheduled. He knows who was cast originally for the lead, and why the director chose organic effects over computer-generated.
Film buffs are daunted by the vast collection of works he owns and once meticulously displayed. He keeps them in boxes now, but he carries the moments with him.
A lover may ask him anything about a film except how he feels about it.
He’s not ready yet. The time isn’t right.
On the bus, a man plays with the spring-loaded latches of a window. The clacking sound is loud as it falls halfway down, crooked. The man grumbles, gives up, and sits back down. The beeps sound, the doors close, and the bus rises and moves again.
The City—his time in it—goes by in a blur. Buildings are razed and erected. Restaurants open, change ownership, change names, change locations, go out of business. There is a new sign he doesn’t recognize, but he doesn’t read it. He closes his eyes and lets it stream by while his player ticks out the remaining seconds of his soundtrack.
The bus stops at the end of the line. The music stops and he tugs the buds from his ears.
He falls out with the rest and follows the crowd. Some stop to review their tickets, the signs and the screens, but his feet know the way. His train is close. He selects a car and boards. He walks the aisle, and selects a seat. He prepares his ticket to show when asked.
His brothers have asked him where he’s going. He told them details in academic terms, explaining locales, schedules, and degrees of expectation.
His brothers asked him why…
He’s leaving—and whether he knows it or not—his brothers go with him.
When he’s ready to be himself, he’ll return.
What matters can never be left behind.