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Learning To Fly

This is a story I wrote back in 1998 or so.

Learning To Fly

He walked out purposefully, taking long strides and looking into the future.

His external appearance belied his feelings of uncertainty; he didn’t know exactly what time the bus home was supposed to arrive, and wasn’t even sure of precisely where he was supposed to be. He considered himself lucky he’d remembered to get some change, because he wasn’t even aware of if there was another bus to catch, if he missed this one.

He trudged to the stop, his inadequate boots scraping his ankles raw. The Florida sun was blinding, and he worried that he wouldn’t be able to use his distance vision to determine which bus was coming, because of the glare. He shouldn’t have worried. A stern wind from the East informed him that the weather was changing, and rapidly. Looking about him, he noticed that to the north a black thunderhead had formed, apparently unaware of the sun’s intentions of keeping him hot and blind. The nascent storm churned, slowly moving to the south.

Furrowing his brow, he opened his briefcase and pulled out a magazine, intending to focus on something else other than his current situation: alone in the heart of an unfamiliar city, trying to find his way home. He was riding the bus because his wife was afflicted with two diseases: one was chronic worry, and he felt it would be better for her if she wasn’t concerned with him on the highways. The loss of what little independence he had was worrisome to him, but not overly so; the state of constant emergency at home had superseded him.

Reading a meaningless story, he was able to establish some plot and characterization before a slight spray, mere droplets, informed him that he wouldn’t likely escape the rain. He sadly folded his magazine back in his briefcase, and moved to the shelter provided by a tree; perhaps the storm would pass before landing in full force. Instead, the rain thickened, and the swirling wind threw it in his already-worn eyes. He walked towards some shelter, to try to stay out of most of the rain, but it was an empty motion: he really didn’t care. So for the most part, he held his head against the wind and rain, and refused to give voice to a hope that the rain wouldn’t ruin his briefcase, a gift given to him.

Squinting against the spray, he saw what he thought was his bus behind another. Glancing at his watch, he counted seconds as it grew closer. Paying attention only to the bus meant for him, he leapt for cover when its predecessor’s wheels hit a swirl of water. His shelter was insufficient; his shoes and pants’ legs were now soaked. At this, he could only sigh: what could he have done?

His bus finally arrived. Now wet and cold, he trudged in, deposited more money than he needed — of course, there was no change available. He walked to the back of the bus, near the engine, where he hoped some warmth and privacy would be afforded him. The bus was nearly empty, with only four passengers and its driver. He was happy with that; with room to stretch out, to arrange his personal space, he felt that he’d be able to recover some from the rain, wind, and stress.

He opened his briefcase, and settled against the heat and wordless cry of the engine behind him. Resuming the story, he read of an author whose words dictated the circumstances of her life, beyond her control. The story wasn’t very good, but the pathos it was trying to evoke struck a chord in his imagination. After he finished the four-page story, he looked at his hands, a mild wish running through him that his hands held that kind of power, or any kind of strength. As it was, all he did was type, and think, and mourn. No future generation would look upon his works and feel what he felt, or see what he saw. All they would do is see that he had lived, and that he had died, his name a meaningless jumble of sound.

He began watching the road carefully, regretting his position in the bus; the windows occluded his vision, and he didn’t know the route well enough to gauge how close to his stop he was. He knew the bus turned on an off-street a mile before where he had gotten on this morning, and thought it would go by there again on the way home. He wanted to save himself the walk through the soggy heat, and he didn’t know if the rain — now stopped, having expressed its fury at him – would resume while he trudged. So he watched, incapable of affecting the bus.

He saw the group of shops before his stop, and waited. The bus would turn off soon; he hoped that it would go back to the same street shortly, so that he would be able to be home within fifteen minutes. The bus had picked up one or two more passengers along the way, from somewhere, and one was being dropped off then. He toyed with the idea of getting off the bus now, defying heat and rain, but decided that he should find out if a better stop would arrive.

It wouldn’t. Despairing, he saw a route map too late; the turn would lead him five miles out of his way, before returning to this area. As the bus turned down another side road, he looked at what should have been his destination, worry clouding his perception. He sank back in his seat, cursing his decisions.

The bus rode onward, dropping off one passenger and picking up two more. All the other riders sat near the front of the bus, and his feelings of alienation in this environment deepened. He decided that, even without conversation, physical nearness would be better than what he was experiencing, so he grabbed his briefcase by the handle to move up a few rows. As his briefcase’s contents spilled onto the floor of the bus, he realized he had merely put the lid down, and not latched it. Sighing, he began retrieving his papers from the damp floor of the bus. “I think I’m in Hell,” he thought, “and Hell is made by Blue Bird.”

He settled in, waiting and hoping for the bus to go back to his stop. In anticipation and anxiety, he began staring at his watch, wishing he had someone familiar with him, anyone familiar, anyone who knew his name. He didn’t allow himself the luxury of letting his mind wander or cope, but watched both time and location, as if by the force of his will he could bring himself closer to home.

After fifteen minutes of riding on deserted back roads, the bus finally got back on the road he wanted to be on. “At last,” he thought, “now I can only hope that I can gauge the distance to my stop.” The bus crawled forward in the rush hour traffic, and he growled to himself in frustration.

The bus began making more frequent stops, as passengers got on to travel downtown. Most were impassive and benign, and two sat at the back of the bus near the engine, and gaily cursed at each other. At this, he decided that he preferred the stony silence of his earlier ride; not out of anger for the two behind him, but because the noise was distracting him.

At last, he saw his stop. He rang the bell to inform the driver that a passenger wanted to get off, and was moving toward the exit almost before the bus began to slow down. He thanked the driver and almost leaped out of the bus, like a young bird. He started walking to his car, and defied the resuming rain to dampen his spirits: he was on his way home.

After a short drive to his rented house, he opened the door, opened his arms for his son, and said, almost happily, “Honey, I’m home.”