out of service



          It was midnight there outside the train station.  That was the last stop on my bus route that night.  I left the doors open for fresh air.  I flipped on the “OUT OF SERVICE” displays front, back, side.  I shuffled to the rear of the bus with my head down to pick up the paper trash before I was going to be driving back to the yard.  I turned around and meandered back up front and when I looked up suddenly there she stood.

          She was black.  She was in her Army fatigues and she was carrying a duffle bag as big as a Volkswagen.  She turned her head and grinned sweetly and fluttered her eyelashes, asking me, “Can you make one more stop?  Please?  My train was late,” then she pouted her full lips.

          I felt badly but replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

          Her face fell and she plopped her duffle bag down and said, “I was supposed to meet my sister at Thompson Creek Road at eleven.”

          I pointed back to the train station and I offered, “There is still a cab over there.”

          She looked up at me and whispered almost with shame, “I can’t afford a cab that far,” then she proffered, “I can pay you.”

          I said again, “I’m sorry.”

          She straightened up and resolved, “That’s alright.  It’s alright.  God will find me a way.”

          I was hearing my angel and my devil argue.

“You’ll get fired.”

“But she put herself in harm’s way for you and this country.”

“So what?  This isn’t a TV commercial.  Just think about how long were you unemployed before you got this job.  It’s a good job.”

“Come on.  It’s cold and dark out there and she looks so tired and sad.  Are you going to make her sleep in the train station?  What would Jesus do?”

“Jesus would get nailed to a cross.”

          I rubbed my palms together nervously and said, “Oh, alright.  Sure, ok.  Thompson Creek Road is on my way back anyway.  And you don’t owe me anything.”

          She gave a little hop, “Praise Jesus,” and her face became radiant as she said, “I’m Zaina.  Sergeant Zaina Bawa.  Thank you, thank you.”

          I sighed, “Yeah.  I’m Bob.”

          Sergeant Zaina smiled and said, “Thank you, Bus Driver Bob,” as she took her place on the long seat right behind the driver’s chair.

          Zaina leaned around the Plexiglas panel behind my chair and said, “You don’t look like a bus driver.  Aren’t you kind of young?  All the bus drivers I’ve known were geezers.”

          I spoke over my shoulder to Zaina as I merged with the freeway traffic, “I was an English major.  I couldn’t find any other job.  I was actually lucky to find this one.”

          Zaina asked, “Don’t you go crazy talking to crazy people on the bus… like me?” and she bowed her head and gave a loud, “Ha!”

          I smiled, “It’s not too bad.  Most people are OK, just trying to get along.  You know.”

          Zaina asked, “So you don’t pull away from the bus stop just when some old lady is running across the street hollering ‘Wait!’?”

          I laughed, “No.  I’m usually behind schedule because I don’t blow people off.  I watch for them.  I even wait for connecting buses if they aren’t too late.”

          Zaina asked with a big smile, “Bob, are you sure you are a bus driver?  ‘Cause you ain’t like any bus driver I ever knew.”

          I just had to say to her, “Actually, I’m a writer,” and I waited for her to be impressed.

          Zaina asked, “A writer, huh?  What do you write?  Bus reports?  ‘Today I talked to a crazy lady named Zaina’.  Aw, I’m just funnin’ ya.”

          I replied undaunted, “Fiction.”

          She said, “You make stuff up.”

          I replied, “Yeah, about crazy ladies named Zaina that no one will believe.”

          She tried to get serious for a moment, “Do you think you can make a living at it as a writer?”

          I sighed, “It will take an Act of God.”

          Zaina shook her head slowly, “God does have a plan for you and me, Bob.  I know that for a fact,” then she became pensive, “Some of the fucking shit I’ve come through…  God was watching out for me, I know, ‘cause I’m right here in America on this bus tonight with you Bob.  And some friends I had ain’t, God rest their souls, I tell ya.”

          I offered, “I can only imagine from TV and what I’ve heard.  I really respect what you do, Zaina.”

          The bus rocked and hummed along amongst the sparse midnight traffic.  In the mirror I saw that Zaina remained pensive and then she reached into her duffle bag and rummaged and pulled out a half-empty bottle of Heaven Hill Black Bourbon.  I quickly switched off the interior lights except for the dashboard.  Was I about to be punished for my “good deed”?

          Zaina took a swig, cringed and then exhaled.  She leaned forward and held the bottle out into the dashboard twilight in front of my right hand saying, “Welcome me home, Bob?”

          I had a sudden revelation: it was the lipstick on the mouth of the bottle that I wanted to taste.  Good Lord.  I could feel my wild turkey feathers ruffle down below.

          I sneaked a swig, leaning back against the chair and sliding the bottle up and then back down close to my chest, saying, “I’m fucked.”

          Zaina laughed, took another swig and said to me, “You don’t know what fucked is, Bob.”

          I laughed.  This was a whole new world in my timid universe.

          For several miles we both climbed up Heaven Hill, talking and laughing louder and longer.  The bus weaved a couple times because I was laughing so hard.

          I got off the freeway at Foothill Boulevard and Zaina said, “There are cops here.  Better put this away,” then she laughed, “Its empty anyway, Mister Bus Driver Bob!”

          I could still taste the lipstick from each shared swig.  My devil and my angel were in my opposite ears again.

          “Yeah.  Pull into Hibert’s Automotive Repair lot.  It’s after midnight.  They’re closed.  Nothing crazy about a city bus getting some outsourced repair work, right?”

          “Bob, what are you doing?  Just take Zaina to Thompson Creek Road down the street and say good-bye.”

          I said to Zaina, “Thompson Creek Road is just a couple blocks down.  Do you need help carrying that?  Can I call your sister for you?”

          Zaina stood up and leaned close to me, saying, “Thank you, Bob.  It was so nice of you to do this for me.  I wish I could repay you,” while I vibrated like a tuning fork she continued, “I pray you won’t get into any trouble because of me.  I know God will bless you for this,” and she leaned in toward me upon her tip toes to kiss my cheek.

          But when I smelled her and felt her heat against my face my arms were suddenly grabbing her.  I know I shouldn’t have, couldn’t have…  God bless my arms.  She felt firm and I could tell she was strong but, my God, she softly surrendered.  I kissed her on the mouth and her full lips parted.  My tongue stormed inside.  She embraced me and we pressed each other.

          We sank to the floor of the bus, and Zaina gasped, “Wait, wait,” and she clawed a blanket out of her duffle bag and unrolled it and then we rolled on it.  She unbuttoned her fatigue shirt and revealed creamy brown arms and neck outside her A-shirt while I quickly slid my hands under that A-shirt.  Oh, God, oh, God, I had to say out loud close to her face, “God, your skin is so soft,” and she arched up and kissed me as I drew out her breasts in both hands, kneeling like I was praying.  And I was praying: I was giving incredulous thanks.

          I sanctioned her soft, soft breasts and I held the bullets of her nipples between my lip and tongue.  She began to twist side to side.  She was twisting to unbutton her heavy pants, giggling at the effort.  I looked downward.  Under those heavy military pants were white cotton panties, glowing against her dark skin.  I pulled those panties down with my chin, sliding myself down into amenable supplication.

          Minutes later she was tugging my face onto her chest and she asked me breathlessly, “Do you have a condom?”

          I answered, “No.”

          She said, “Oh, Jesus.”

          I advanced into that satin minefield anyway.

          I was probing with my semi-automatic, retreating, probing, retreating, probing, probing and then, dammit, I stumbled helplessly into an annihilating explosion.  I started flagging like a raw recruit when Sergeant Zaina Bawa took command and grabbed me and pulled me erect and reloaded me into the breech as bad as new.

          And then at last, after we both had surrendered several times, we held each other, my nose against her sweet soft cheek, both of us fighting for breath.  Finally Zaina turned her head and she whispered into my face, “My sister will be worried.”

          We helped each other dress.  Then I drove that grunting hissing bus down the narrow neighborhood street of Thompson Creek Road.  Lights came on in a couple of the houses we passed.

          I finally stopped and let Sergeant Zaina Bawa out in front of her sister’s house.  Her sister heard the odd noises and opened the front door, her mouth falling open as wide as the doorway, screeching and laughing, “Zaina, you hijacked a bus?!”

          Zaina called back to me, laughing, “Bob, this is my sister Eloise.  Eloise, this my very own Bus Driver Bob.”


And that is the real story of how I met your mother.






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