I see two men sitting near me on the bus. They are crowded next to each other on the back seat, over the engine. One man is smaller, the other larger. I hear the larger man say to his accidental neighbor, “You have to move.”
The smaller man does not move, perhaps because he doesn’t understand.
“Maricón,” the larger man says. “Do you know what that means?”
The larger man starts to shove the smaller one, bumping him with his elbow and hip.
The smaller man makes no reply, but his face becomes red as rage rises to it.
“You are a maricón,” the larger man repeats.
This man is carrying a bag with something inside it, something delicate made of wood and glass. Pieces of a frame stick out of the bag. Maybe the object is a work of art.
When the larger man gets off the bus, the smaller one follows. He grabs the bag out of the man’s arms and throws it to the ground. He stomps on it, shattering the object inside. Then he runs away, down the sidewalk. The larger man looks angry, but he doesn’t chase the smaller one. Maybe he knows he’s not fast enough to catch him.
I get off the bus and walk to my former office to work as a freelancer. My assignment is to check facts, and I proceed to do that. I believe the facts I’m checking are correct, but I’m not sure they are. In any case, I don’t want to check them again. I’m on a time clock and I want to be done.
It’s Friday, and I tell my fellow freelancer that I won’t be back on Monday because I haven’t been asked to come in. I haven’t seen the bosses I used to work with—the ones who didn’t want me around. I don’t know if they’re still working in this place, but I assume they are. They are in a separate area, perhaps in a separate city. I never saw them much while I was employed.
In the afternoon, I take the bus again to pick up our daughter from day care. I bring her with me on a bus heading for home.
A tall woman is sitting across from us. “I hate fathers who don’t work,” she says.
I don’t know if she is talking to me. There could be other fathers on the bus.
“They just stay at home all day,” she continues.
“You can look me up,” I say to her, “and find out what I do.”
“I’ve had enough of this,” she says as she gets off the bus.
“Look me up,” I repeat.
“Don’t talk to me.”
I take my daughter out with me at night. I want to see a friend of mine who is in a show. The show features women speaking or singing, and my friend is the host.
My daughter and I walk to a bar called Meow Mix. At the door, a woman with a crew cut says, “You can’t come in.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“You have to be twenty-one.”
“She’s twenty-two,” I say, indicating my daughter.
“What do you mean?”
“She’s over twenty-two months old,” I say.
“She has to stay outside.”
It’s quite cold outside. We both want to go in.
“Can you ask the host to come out?” I ask the doorwoman.
We wait, and soon my friend comes out. She’s wearing a glittery sleeveless top and no coat. She’s cold, too. She talks to us, compliments my child, and goes back inside. I wonder what’s happening in there, on the small stage. Young women in colorful clothes are probably burning the place down.
Luckily, my daughter and I catch a bus to get home. The bus isn’t crowded, so we find seats. We are warm the whole way.
At home, I look at my computer and see that I’ve been offered a job in a different city. It’s a teaching job, but in a subject I’m not familiar with. I think I can do it and freelance at the same time.
I e-mail my former boss and tell him I will work two jobs at once.
He tells me to forget it—I will never be able to do the office job right.
“I can do it,” I say, “I know I can.”
“No, you cannot.”
I look through screens on my computer to find what I need for my upcoming class. I click past windows of offensive material saved on my desktop until I find something that looks relevant, but it’s not right. I’m going to have to ask someone with experience to explain the class to me. I’m going to have to get energized. I’m going to have to prepare to motivate the new students.
I take a bus to another city to get to my class. It’s the cheapest bus—a round-trip ticket costs only $10. The interior is comfortable, though, and the bus leaves on time.
I take a commuter train from the bus station to get to the campus. All goes well during my lecture, except that one student starts to cry. She says I didn’t see her hand when she raised it. “You weren’t fair to me,” she says.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Everyone gets equal time here. If I don’t notice you, just say, ‘Excuse me!’”
On my way back, the bus is late. I wait on the sidewalk with a number of other people. Some of them have cell phones and are making calls. I can’t abandon my spot, because the bus might come and leave without me.
The bus shows up an hour after it is scheduled, and I get on. I have no cell phone, so my family won’t know where I am. But I’ve saved money by taking the cheapest bus.
To shorten the trip, the driver pushes on like a madman. He guns the engine and swings around turns. He overtakes vehicles without hesitation. Through the window, I see Exit signs pass by in flashes.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.