Off the bus

In what had become, in his experience, a far-too-familiar scenario, Milo found himself wandering glumly throughout the stockyard district of the Windy City, trousers ominously stained and foetid.

He remembered words from the anti-bible of his youth, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: "'re either on the Bus, or you're off the Bus." He was definitely off. The driver had been adamant.

Milo wished fervently he could understand what it all meant, as he tramped wide sidewalks with dustfilled cracks, squinted at a sun grinning down at him like a pale skull, felt the cold wind. On or off the bus? He wasn't sure. Was he walking, listening to the rumbling circular mooing sounds, or was he riding, hearing the drone of a diesel cow? He may have dozed.

Perhaps the bag lady had been a bad dream. Those damned eyes... Milo felt a rush of vertigo, and suddenly was falling into the black well of Lenore's eyes, his body spinning like a free-fall parachutist in one of Salvador Dali's more improbable landscapes. There were no familiar reference points.

Well, maybe one or two.


"Hey, you. Hey wake up! Hey!" Milo lifted an eyelid. A bus driver, an uncertain grip on Milo's shoulders, was shaking him. "Hey, you awake?"

There was a noise, like a school yard, except it echoed, like prison. Milo opened his eyes completely. He was still on the bus, after all. But he was at the depot garage. Shift change. Milo felt a pang, and slipped a hand in his jacket to try and scratch the hunger out of his belly. But he realized with relief that his pants, while redolent of too many nights bunking down in barns and ditches, were unsoiled by more personally-biological weaponry.

"A dream after all," he thought.

"Come on, bud, it's time to go." The bus driver still had a hold on his jacket, and was now urging Milo out of his seat, using the diplomatic bum's rush he'd perfected in a career of daily use.

"Sandwich." Milo heard the word come out of his mouth, and looked around to see who else was in the bus with them.

"Sorry bud, but it's against the rules."

Real compassion flowed from the driver, like a healing balm. He wasn't that old, but Milo could see worry lines, forming from the guilt the man felt for the helplessness of his less fortunate brethren. The guy was a Christian! -- Milo could smell it on him. A small part of his prehistoric lizard brain yelled, "Yippee! Score!"

The coach rocked slightly as the driver followed Milo to the front, and down the steps to the oil-stained floor of the garage.

"Two bucks?" Milo looked around again for the utterer of the words. It must've been the lizard.

The driver's hand almost involuntarily dove into his pants pocket and dumped an undeterminate amount of change into Milo's cupped hands, then pushed him wordlessly into the dazzling sodium vapour lights of the depot parking lot.