Ben was not the first passenger on the bus, also not the last. He doesn’t remember when he boarded, but must have done so the same way as everyone else. It isn’t a mystery how a person boards a bus, or a train, or any other port of entry for that matter. You just put one foot in front of the other and climb on board.
The swoosh of the bus doors signified opening, and another person stepped in from the darkness outside. They carried the same face as all the other passengers, when first encountering the bus driver and then, turned to see the rows of seats lined up against each side of the vehicle. The face of careful consideration. Not the type of consideration a first day school goer experiences when looking for the familiar to sit next to. But a more intelligent consideration. A calm look of surprisingly little emotion considering why, perhaps, they were on this bus to begin with, and where, exactly are they going?
“I wonder if I wore that same face when I came on the bus?” thought Ben.
Ben noticed something else after this thought; everyone on this bus is old. Quite visibly old. Ben noticed that the woman who had just stepped on must have been in her eighties or even nineties. She was dressed in a nice Sunday fashion and had a bow in her grey hair. She seemed graceful in her steps as she walked down the aisle with that careful look of deep consideration. She stopped abruptly and decided to sit in the fourth seat on her left. She sat with such smooth grandeur that Ben hardly could call it sitting at all and would have preferred the verb, falling.
After more observation, Ben counted six passengers on the bus. Seven if the bus driver was being included, but Ben found it hard to include the Bus Driver in his data. He seemed separate from the rest of them and Ben could not pinpoint why or how. This didn’t matter to him and he passed the thought quickly and was on to the next.
The next though being; “why, again, am I on this bus, and where am I going?”
He looked out the window and saw a midnight blue sky. He knew it was night and was surprised to see such a shade of blue painted on the night skies palette. He then noticed the moon and had never seen such a moon before. It was the brightest and biggest moon he had ever witnessed, and never thought the moon could reach such grandiose, in either capacity.
It didn’t take long for a smart kid like Ben to put together that the moon’s new found brightness was the reason behind the dark skies midnight blue look. The stars too, were outstandingly bright tonight and seemed to be as clear as if they were only just outside the bus window.
As Ben continued his curious gazing, he saw that the land below the sky outstretched and seemed to take the shape of that of a desert. Ben had never been in a desert before and thought this would be quite a sight when the sun rises. The desert had a bluish tint cast on it by the moon and stars above ,and gave the overall landscape the look of an animated children’s movie. The colors of blue and glowing white looked so graphic that a sense of drawing hyper-realism played on his eyes. He was, for a short time, mesmerized by the scene.
The bus started to slow and the familiar swoosh of the doors sounded as another passenger stepped aboard.
“Well, well, if it isn’t my old friend,” said the bus driver with a smile.
This was the first time Ben had heard any words spoken on the bus, and they sounded so welcoming that Ben was hopeful to hear more.
The passenger stopped as he stepped in front of the bus driver and gave a small smile. He then lifted his tweed Tam O’ Shanter cap and continued on down the bus.
This passenger had no look of consideration like the others. He was sure in his expression. His small smile remained on his face and a centered happiness seem to surround his countenance. He walked with humble confidence. He was also older. “Perhaps sixties or seventies,” Ben had thought. He wore a long sleeved flannel shirt patterned with different shades of tan. His pants were corduroy and brown, and he wore suspenders. His boots were those illustrating a working man, black and worn. He sported an appropriate grayish brown mustache that fit his small face perfectly. Ben noticed how small the man was the closer he walked down the aisle. He must have been 5’6’’ at most and had a small crouch in his back. He also seemed to float down the aisle rather than walk, but the most notable feature about this man was his squinty little eyes. If there ever was a smile that shown fully threw the eyes, this was it. The eyes were small and beady. There was a look that could only be conceived from a life of squinting in the sun, which meant this was a working man, true and through.
The man came nearer to Ben and noticed him. Ben looked away back out the window that he just recently before, was entrapped into.
“Excuse me young man,” said the newcomer, “Are you saving this seat for anyone?”
Ben looked up at the smiling eyes and answered, “I don’t know if I am or not.” He looked away in a shameful way, embarrassed in his answer.
“Don’t think too hard about it son,” said the man reassuringly. “How about I keep the seat warm for whoever sits in it next?”
The man went ahead and sat down and Ben kept looking out the window.
“Oh, how the time flies,” said the man. “I haven’t been on this bus in some time now and now that I boarded again, it seems only a few minutes has passed when in reality, who knows how much time has gone by.”
Ben looked at the man and noticed the difference in their height. Ben measured at a flat 6’ and found himself looking down at the smaller man beside him.
“You’ve been on this bus before?” asked Ben with a stirring curiosity.
“Oh yes, I might have even sat in this here seat, or at least the one you’re in.” answered the man. He looked up at Ben with a gleam in his eyes that welcomed more conversation. Ben received the welcome.
“Where is it taking us?” asked Ben.
“Oh somewhere I wasn’t ready to go at first,” answered the man with a distant look on his face. He turned to look ahead and stared into space for a while before Ben asked; “am I ready to go?”
The man seemed as if he didn’t hear at first and then turned to Ben with a serious look in his eyes.
“I want you to think very hard son, I want you to think of where you were before you boarded this bus,” he said.
Ben looked dumbfounded and the empty face of careful consideration returned to his countenance. The same face shared by each new passenger on this bus, everyone except, the man next to him.
Ben shook himself out of it and looked back outside at the magic landscape of the blue desert and sky.
“Don’t look out the window,” said the man. “It will only draw you further into unreality.”
Ben then started to stare at his feet and rake his memories as to where he was prior to boarding the bus. Out of the darkness in his mind, a mother appeared. Ben knew this person was a mother, but how, he did not know. The image was fuzzy at first and then focused started to circle the outline of the mother until dimensions of her person were fine and real. The focus spotlighted unseen attributes of the mother. A worried face, a face full of love and loss. Tears married a small tight face. “Why is she crying,” he thought. “And who’s mother is she?”
From her body spread tentacles of light and color. A living color that chased the surrounding darkness and uncovered more of a familiar sight. Although familiarity that is not yet recognized. Ben knew what he was looking at, but did not know the context. He could see people now, all gathered in one place. There were eight of them, counting the mother. The scene now, was a clear view from the perspective of one staring up from the ground.
If there is such an act as squinting the brain, the act was being done by Ben at this moment. Squinting not to see, but to decipher who these people were and where this scene was taking place. The room was white and quite unpleasant. There were gadgets and blocks of machinery in the corners and hanging from the walls.
Ben noticed an object that sparked a word in his mind. A word that he knew, and saved him from his obliviousness. The object he saw, was a clock.
The clock was commercial and belonged to a family of billions identical to it. A big white face, complimented by black bold numbers and lining. Two hands, a short and a long, both black and obeying their order from the hair thin red hand that passed.
Ben saw that the time in the memory was 2:03, but was not sure if this was A.M. or P.M.
Ben’s attention was brought back to the mother. “My mother,” he thought. Her tears, they are for me. Her face was sad and a pain shot through Ben’s chest.
He sat there on the bus quietly and let the memories continue to flow. His eyes rapidly moved to a rhythm that suggested a deep sleep.
The man sitting next to Ben, continued to look forward and merely let what was happening continue on its course.
Ben savored the memories. Drank them like living water. Being pulled on Grandpa’s tractor in the orchard during the colorful transitions of Autumn. Exchanging stories with Grandma before bedtime. Laughing during a funny T.V. show that the family watched habitually. Scraping a knee and being rescued by the warm embrace of a band-aid applied by Mom.
Ben opened his eyes, his face now wearing an acute awareness.
“I am dead,” said Ben.
The man, who had been closing his eyes as well and remembering something sweet from his own memories, opened them slowly and crossed his legs comfortably.
“Yes,” he said.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” asked Ben.
“Things work a little differently on this bus,” the man said. “It takes time to realize and to come to grips with each of our situation.”
“So they are all dead too?” asked Ben, signifying with his eyes the other passengers.
“Quite,” returned the man. “Except for our good ol’ guide up in front,” he said with a wave of his hand in a casual fashion.
“My name is Oliver, but you can call me Ollie, as did my family and friends in the past,” said Ollie.
“I’m Ben.” responded Ben in a dazed voice. He returned his look to his feet and said, “I would like to be alone Ollie, if you don’t mind, I have a lot to think about.”
“Oh sure sure,” said Ollie with a grin.
The men both were silent and looked ahead of them. The one with a fulfilling grin, and the other with a sullen face.
“Why am I not crying?” asked Ben more into the air than at Ollie. “I want to cry.”
“Well, do you want some time to yourself to figure that out, or do you want me to just tell you?” Ollie asked.
After a moment of silence, Ben said, “just tell me.”
“This bus we are in, sort of suppresses any compromising emotional behavior,” Ollie said. “It’s a place that demands silence out of respect for what’s to come and because of that, each person is bound by their most mature behavior.”
Ben continued to look out the window.
“If you’re gonna keep staring out that thing, at least focus on what you might see in the desert,” said Ollie.
Ben shifted his view from the moon to the desert and tried to focus on the objects that seemed stationary, but the more he looked, were full of motion.
“There are people out there,” said Ben.
“Look closer,” replied Ollie.
Ben narrowed his vision and found that the people the bus passed were crying. Not only were they crying, but they were hysterical. There were woman who bundled themselves in little balls on the desert floor and wept with their arms outstretched and reaching for the bright stars above. Men who were kicking the dirt around them in a angry fit and reaching for whatever desert plants they could throw. Others who wandered aimlessly, either running with anger, or walking slowly with defeat.
“If you want to cry, you can go out there,” said Ollie. “All you gotta do is pull that cord above our seats here, and the driver will gladly let you out.”
“How do you know all of this?” replied Ben as he slowly turned from the window.
“You saw me come in right?” asked Ollie.
“Yeah, you seemed more aware than the rest of us.” said Ben.
“Well, this is my third time boarding this bus,” said Ollie with a friendly smile.
Ben looked confused, gave the idea some thought, and said; “Surely, you haven’t died three times, I would guess that you were out there.”
Ben pointed out the window behind him without taking his eyes off Ollie.
Ollie smiled and merely gave a nod to signify his guess was correct.
“So, if you were out there and you are now here, for the third time, does that mean we can board the bus from the desert any time we want?”
“Quite a smart fellow your parents raised,” Ollie said with a proud look in his eyes. “I found myself out there two times. Two times I felt the need to scream and gnash my teeth at whatever or whoever took my life away from me. Who knows how long I have been out there wasting time.”
“Wasting time?” Ben said. “Is it not best for us to vent how we feel in a situation like this?”
“What happens out there has its uses,” continued Ollie. “I would be as bold to say that all those uses are selfish.”
“Selfish?” responded Ben. “How can something so important to the welfare of a person’s mental state be selfish? We are dead. I am dead. I need to scream, I need to also curse whatever power was behind my leaving my family, I was engaged to be married!”
“You said “I” four times in that sentence,” said Ollie with another smile.
Ben looked back out the window, wanting to yell at the old man, but there was no flush of blood to his face or rise of adrenaline in his brain.
“I just wish I had more time,” said Ben into the window.
Ollie was not smiling with his mouth anymore, but the ever so constant smile in his eyes still remained. He was silent and waited for Ben to say more.
“I was engaged, I had family, I had just graduated college.” continued Ben.
“Oh?” said Ollie. “What were your plans?”
It took Ben sometime to answer, when he finally did, he sat up straighter and looked at Ollie conversationally. “I was working towards being an author,” he said.
“An author?” responded Ollie. “I wish I knew more about books. I never really did good in school. Actually, come to think of it, I never finished 10th grade!”
“What did you do for a living?” asked Ben.
“Well, I owned a hay farm, but most of my income came from driving cement trucks,” said Ollie. “I don’t know how it is in your time, but in my time, I drove cement trucks, there was no power steering. Oh boy was it a bugger to get those giants turned. I had to stand straight up in the cab to get enough leverage.”
“My time?” said Ben.
“…it was great for the ol’ forearms though,” continued Ollie. “I bet I can beat you in an arm wrestle?”
Ollie smiled and rolled up his sleeves to reveal two Popeye looking forearms. “Never lost a match,” he said.
“Wait, back up, are you from a different time then me?” asked Ben.
“I don’t know what time you are from.” said Ollie. “You might be from the same time as me or another one. It doesn’t really matter does it?”
“And why wouldn’t it matter?” asked Ben feeling a little perturbed by the situation.
“Time is a funny thing,” answered Ollie. “It belongs only on earth, or at least where we were before here. Time is different in this place than it was in the place we were, or even still are, if you think about it.”
“What do you mean if you think about it?” asked Ben.
“Well, I guess that’s my way of saying that I have spent my whole time in the desert thinking about these things and well…” Ollie begin to say and then paused.
“Do you want me to tell you, or do you want to gather your own thoughts about time?” asked Ollie.
Ben thought to himself. This was the second time Ollie had asked for permission before relaying information. “Maybe there is some importance to figuring out these things for myself?” thought Ben. “Although, Ollie choose to sit by me, and there could be some merit in getting information without going through the time of finding out myself.”
“Tell me,” said Ben.
Ollie smiled to himself and made himself more comfortable in his seat.
“When I was in the desert, for however long it was, I thought about what I did with my time back on earth,” said Ollie. “The time then was so linear and simple. There was a beginning and an end, and I surely, met my end. So where was I now? Why did anything matter if time had stopped for me? I thought of time on earth more like a photograph than something that continued into abyss. In a still picture, there is an obvious beginning and end that remains constant and is unchanging.”
Ben began to exhibit a look of confusion. Ollie noticed his expression and revised.
“What I am mean to say,” began Ollie. “Is that here and now, the time we spent on earth, when alive, has been captured in a beginning and end. We can look back on that life, sort of like you recently did when you came to the realization you were dead.”
Ben began to regain understanding.
“Time can only exist when there is a beginning and end attached to it,” continued Ollie. “This thought brought an even stronger sadness with it than the thought of being dead. This bus, the never ending desert outside of it, and the secret sun that never rises, is evidence of eternity, a timeless prison that I was trapped in.”
“So we are trapped here?” asked Ben looking scared.
“No no,” answered Ollie with a wave of a hand. “After talking with other mourners in the desert, I came to the conclusion that this place we are in, is sort of a transition area between when time existed as a beginning and end, and when time exist as something else.”
“Something else?” interrupted Ben. “But I thought you said that eternity is represented in the desert and on this bus?”
“Eternity is eternity, no matter where it is represented,” said Ollie with a confident smile. “Although, what I realized was this; that eternity has no beginning or end, unlike time, but that does not exclude the possibility of different locations that exist in eternity. When I came to this conclusion, the bus rolled up to me in the desert and opened its doors! Which lead to my second boarding of this vehicle.”
“Okay, so the bus finds those who are ready to move on to different locations?” said Ben, more to himself than in response to Ollie. “So the bus does has a destination!”
Ollie only continued smiling.
“What happened next?” Ben asked.
“Well, like I said before, this bus has something about it.” continued Ollie. “My emotions were suppressed and I was able to think more clearly about everything I learned in the desert.”
Ollie paused and a slight sadness overtook his happy eyes.
“And?” probed Ben,
“I was not done being selfish.” answered Ollie. “I pulled the rope above the seat and the driver stopped and let me out again. I remember what he said to me; ‘when you’re ready, my friend, I will be there for you.’ “
“That’s good to know,” said Ben. “So I can take my time out there, and at any time, I can be picked up again.”
“You aren’t listening Ben,” said Ollie with a look of accusation. “You can’t take your time with anything, because you don’t have time. Time does not exist anymore. You are in eternity.”
“But time still exists doesn’t it?” said Ben defensively. “Just not here right? Because there still exists an earth where billions of people are still living their not yet captured photographs.”
“Which is why time doesn’t belong to us anymore,” answered Ollie.
Ben sat there with a look of deep thought.
“If we were outside right now, I am certain I would be pulling my hair out,” admitted Ben.
There was silence, full thought and consideration by Ben. Ollie waited patiently for the question that he knew was coming.
“So what exactly are you getting at?” asked Ben.
“Have you ever made a decision in your life that lead you to something important, and you had no idea how you knew what decision to make?” asked Ollie. “Have you ever had something so good and so unbelievable happen to you that there was no other explanation, but for something larger than you to have a part in it?”
Ben looked surprised by the question. Ollie noticed his surprise.
“Think about it,” suggested Ollie.
“You mean, like a miracle?” asked Ben.
“I am okay with miracles being counted, yes,” answered Ollie.
“Then yes,” said Ben. “Meeting my fiance. It never should have happened, we are both from completely different backgrounds and never should have been in a position to date. But there were so many things that lead us to each other, and she ended up being someone I loved more than anything.”
Ben looked out the window, lost in distant memories, and grounded from tears that could not fall.
“When I was 18,” began Ollie “there was an incident involving a fruit truck that would have taken my life.”
“What happened?” asked Ben, being pulled back from his daydream with interest.
“Well, I won’t bore you with any details,” said Ollie. “Long story short, I should have been crushed, and there was a force that I remember pulled me from the truck’s trajectory.”
“Like, an angel?” asked Ben.
“You could say that,” answered Ollie with a smile. “I will do you one better.”
Ben looked more interested.
“After the incident,” continued Ollie. “My clothes smelled like Copenhagen Snuff. I didn’t snuff and I didn’t know anyone who snuffed. So how did my clothes smell like Copenhagen Snuff? Heaven forbid it reeked of the stuff, my mother thought I had taken a bath in it!”
“I’m confused,” said Ben.
Ollie ignored him and went on.
“It wasn’t until my thinking in the desert that I put some forgotten memories together,” said Ollie. “I remember a memory of my grandfather; I would sit on his lap and he would show me how to carve toys from sticks. This was among my favorite memories of my grandfather and I cherished every detail of the memory. I only knew him when I was a small child due to cancer taking his life at an early age. It was in the remembering of the details that I realized that every time I sat on my grandfather’s lap, I was hit by that awful stink of Snuff, and if you were to guess what brand was my Grandfather’s favorite, what would you venture?”
“Copenhagen,” said Ben quickly.
“Right you are Ben!” said Ollie with a cheerful clap on Ben’s shoulder.
“You think it was your grandfather that saved you from the truck crushing you.” exclaimed Ben.
“You’re a smart cookie!” said Ollie with even more of a shine in his eyes.
Ben sat quietly.
“Time ceases here, but remains moving there,” Ben said quietly.
“Because time only exist there,” began Ollie. “If my grandfather were sulking in the desert at the same time that I almost got hit by that truck, he would not have saved me, and I would not have lived to the old age I was blessed with, and had the children that I cherish.”
Ben continued his silence. He looked out the window deep in thought.
“I’ve been trying to figure out why you sat by me,” said Ben. “Every time I look out this window I remember some other memory from life on Earth. I remembered memories at my grandparent’s house and the time spent on the farmland. I remember playing on their hay bales. I remember a story about my great grandfather, whom I never met. He was riding his motorcycle behind a watermelon truck and noticed a few melons started to fall out.”
Ben smiled and looked deeply into Ollie’s eyes.
“He thought it would be fun to dodge each melon,” Ben said laughing a little to himself. “After a few dodging of melons, he didn’t notice the hitch of the truck bed had come undone and started to hurdle towards him. ‘It was a miracle!’ my grandma Lucy always used to say. He should have died.”
“Oh, Lucy,” said Ollie with a deep love in his eyes. “She was always the one with the strongest faith in the divine.”
“You’re my great grandfather,” said Ben with a sense of recognition come over his face.
“Pleased to meet you Ben,” said Ollie. “I was wondering what part of the family tree you were branched from. I can see Lucy in you now, yes, it’s obvious.”
“But how?” Ben began.
“Well, I am not strong enough to get to my next destination alone Ben,” said Ollie. I’ve spent whatever time it was, from my death to your death, mourning my surmise. I’ve been selfish and stuck in the past. I told the driver, the second time I left the bus, that to pick me up when there is a descendant of mine that boards the bus. I would like to get to our next destination together.”
“You want to save someone, like your grandfather did for you.” said Ben.
“Or something like it,” said Ollie. “And I want you to skip all this mourning nonsense. I want you to be stronger than me Ben, and help me guide our family that is still living. The only way we can do this, is move on. I have taken too long and I hope my talking to you can help you move on with me.”
Ben looked out the window again.
“Apart of me should be angry, you have robbed me of any satisfied crying or any emotional expressiveness,” said Ben.
Ollie was silent, and a little gladness left those small happy eyes.
“But on the other hand, you’ve taught me a lesson only an ancestor can teach. In a way, you have done something that can be compared to what your grandpa did for you on that highway.”
Ollie still, was silent. He did not know what to expect.
Ben looked at his grandfather, smiled, reached up and pulled the rope.
Ollie’s happy shine returned to his small squinting eyes.