Three Bus Years

by Niall Chithelen

Night Bus—Beijing

The night bus takes you across the city in a straight shot. This city has straight shots, it’s wide across, you span some middle area, and who knows where the night bus goes when you leave.

The night bus shows up at odd times; you realized shamefully late that there even was a schedule. The other people who take the night bus aren’t like you, not taking it for your reasons, whatever those reasons are. They take their folded-up delivery bikes and sigh off at their stop. You stand up a few blocks out and then swing out, tilting home.

The night bus is where you collect yourself after a social evening, where the emptied streets remind you that you are anonymous and you return to the grey neighborhood where your footsteps are loud after midnight. Usually you are grateful for this strange nighttime routine. Sometimes you wish you stayed longer among the neon lights.

Seaside—San Diego

In the daylight, this route takes you up and down a hill along the water and you can breathe some ocean breaths. Bus or no bus, this is a sight better than most people get to see today. You’ve stepped in this ocean only once, though, dunked yourself into it, nervous, unsure what you had to lose; mostly you’ve seen it through windows or past stone walls.

On the way back, in the dark, you don’t notice the water. It’s not window time anymore, but instead looking down at your black plastic grocery bag time, or your phone, where you have pulled up a video that will stop playing if you change applications, so that you don’t check your messages so often. But you’re not good at not checking. You change applications. It’s a shame you’re heading home for no reason other than being done, out there.

As you step off at your inland corner, the ocean waits quietly, not too far away, wondering when you might return again.

Line 52—Tompkins County, New York

My winter boots are much too big, not in fit, just in general, so I’ve ruined some pretty nice shoes treading carefully during snow season. To or from work, I saw a bus I never took, bus 52, from Ithaca to Caroline. I suppose Caroline is a town, but maybe it isn’t—I was struck with the thought of the bus, plaintive, searching:

Line 52: Caroline
please come home