Quiet in my Town
by Jace Ridley
I was on a Bus.
I remember that.
Taking the metroliner from the LOVE statue back to the NorthEast is a kind of daily ritual for me. Or it was. Every day is the same, really. People come and go, sit and stand and board and disembark and you see them. You know, you never look at people’s faces on the bus? You see people, but you never remember seeing faces.
But her face? I remember her face.
She was on the bus with me that day, sitting off to one side. I remember she was listening to music, wearing the kind of earbuds that come with new MP3 players.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. Of her being there, I mean. Does anyone? You go through your life seeing hundreds or thousands of people every day. What’s one more face?
So the bus did what buses do; it rode and made it stops. It took on passengers and let others off. It was a normal day.
I’d grown to know every stop so well, I could close my eyes and still know exactly where we were.
….And then it was very quiet. I noticed. It was different.
No traffic sounds or muffled conversations. No hacking coughs or crying babies. No vibrating diesel motor resonating off the cold steel paneling.
There was nothing. No sound. It was only for a second, I think, maybe two, but it felt like hours. The quiet was so thick in the air during that short span of time, it was almost disturbing. Things seemed to slow down. Maybe time hiccuped? Whatever it was, it was gone almost as soon as it was there.
It all came roaring back in an anvil chorus of blaring horns and squealing wheels. There was the shriek of shattering glass, and the metal groaned beneath twisted pressure from impact.
Violent shaking and scattered cries. Screams. Shifting weight as the pavement rushed at the window where my hand rested to steady myself.
I was struck from behind as someone, or maybe multiple somesons, fell against me. My chest hit the wall hard and drove the air from my lungs. Movement stopped. For a moment I could see the yellow street lines, and broken glass, and blood.
And there was pain. And then there was crying. And then there was quiet.
My eyes closed and I had a sensation of floating. The pain was there, but it was like it was someone else’s pain right then.
So I opened my eyes and I wasn’t where I was. I was several feet away…from…from me. I was open eyed and sprawled and my mouth was open.
I was confused. Wouldn’t you be? Or maybe I was scared. Both? Both.
Then she was there. White cords hanging from her ears and connecting, forming a white line that ran into the lining of her black denim jacket. She had a silver pendant around her neck on a cord; a Symbol I know I had seen before…somewhere. Ancient History?
Her black hair was both wild and elegant. She had her hands in her coat pockets and form fitting black denim jeans running into fur lined calf high boots.
She looked at me, and then at me, with a kind of feline grace and knowing eyes. I searched for words.
She cut me off. “Probably not what you think. You ready to go?”
“Do I have any other choice?”
She winced. “Not really.”
And we walked away, back down the road.
She pursed her lips, her head bobbing slightly with the music.
“Who are you?” I said finally. There was a harshness to my voice I didn’t intend.
She looked at me, possibly taken aback by the tone of the question and she stopped walking. “Think of it like this… People die every day. They all go somewhere. Who takes them there?”
“That would be you?” I said. I was numb. This all seemed impossible, but the world behind me was too crisp and clean-cut. I had never seen the world look like.. this.
“Yep.” She started walking again.
“That doesn’t tell me who you are.”
I stopped walking. She didn’t, and it seemed to be several feet before she noticed. She looked back over her shoulder at me. “Are you coming?”
“I don’t want to…”
“No one ever does. It’s not your choice. It’s not mine either. It’s what it is and what it is can’t be changed. Not even by us.”
“Us?” I asked.
“There are greater things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy…” she said, a small smile playing over her lips.
I couldn’t move. “Are you God?”
She laughed. Not a condescending laugh like you might expect from the head cheerleader in High School you asked out, but a wonderful, short, tingling of bells. “No. I’m not God. I’m just me.”
I looked down at my “body”. The scene around me had become a near riot of people trying to help the overturned bus, but there was still no sound. I looked back over at her and found her studying me. She looked almost sympathetic. She looked sad and worried. She looked… tired.
“I really don’t have a choice, do I? If I don’t keep walking, I’ll get there anyway…”
“Where am I going?”
“I honestly can’t tell you… because… I don’t know, myself. I know death isn’t the end, but what comes after? I’ll never find out.”
There it was again.. that look of utter exhaustion. I started walking again and had caught up in a manner of seconds. Together we walked down the street. People moved around us as we moved against the flow, like rocks in the stream. They never touched us, but it was like they knew we were there, subconsciously. In minutes, we had walked to an area of urban desolation, and then down a darker alley.
She looked at me as we reached the end of the alley and emerged onto another street. For seeming so young, she looked hard used.
“Is this you? Is this what you do? Who you are?” I asked. I almost felt embarrassed, like I had tread on a secret and didn’t even know. She took a second to think about what I had asked.
“Yes.” She said finally. “And no. I’m here, with you. This is me. And I’m with everyone else who died back there, and everyone else who died in the whole world. And that’s me too.”
“People die all the time.” I said, stupidly. What obvious bullshit. Like she didn’t know that…
“Yes they do. Continuously. Now, before and forever.”
I started to feel lighter, like there was less of me than there had been a while ago. I looked at my hands and I could see through them, though only partially. “What is happening?”
“You’re crossing over. This is your time.”
“I’m afraid…” and I looked at her eternal eyes, looking back at me.
“I know..” she said. “I’m sorry.”
And she turned around and started to walk away, as the world became as detailed as a hand-drawn illustration. The color started to fade, and the edges became blurry on everything except her. Her black hair was the deepest of blacks, and her head bobbed with the music again. As I started to forget who I was, she turned her head to look at me again.. something I don’t thinks he normally would have done. I went into the white, blinding totality with her face forever burned into my… what? My eyes? No. My being.
Things are very different now, of course. I am nothing. I am everything. I am. And I’m not. And I’m me, in most ways. I don’t remember who I was or what I was doing on that bus. Her face is my only mortal memory. A face I know I’ll never see again. From the moment I saw it on the bus until the time she walked away, I was still a person.
Now I have no idea what I am, but I am content, and also… I am sad. Not for myself. For her.
Knowing she’ll never leave there and go on endlessly, forever escorting the dead to here, where the dead remain, is almost painful. Those eyes were a million years old if they were a day.
Here, where we are, we have a choice. We can stay, or we can go back and try it all again. I don’t think we’re supposed to take anything with us here. No memories or feelings. Just… what we are at the core of ourselves. But I have her face. I know she was on that bus before I died. Somewhere in the world she walks like a person even though she doesn’t need to. She’s there. Somewhere.
And that’s worth going back for.