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Misplaced Stop Signs


Misplaced Stop Signs

 

I waited alone until someone waited with me, a face I’d seen before, but wasn’t sure where. A quick search placed her among the early-morning cleaning crew. I had scheduled the week with a client and decided I’d drive to my office and from there, take a bus. I never thought it would be with the lady who empties my trash. Her name was Vera and I knew this not because I asked, but because it was stitched across her shirt pocket.

            When the bus pulled up, we boarded and I found it filled with tired faces, people whose day had come to an end just as mine got going. Vera sat next to someone up front and I walked to the rear. Wrapped in the rumble, I felt safe, the noise a buffer between me and everyone else. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be so bad, a steel voice sliced my isolation: “Can you believe they work the weekends?” Someone new, someone different than the others. “My toughest shift is Monday, should be the easiest.”

            I tried my best to be unseen and for a block or two, it worked. Then she caught sight of me and silenced her indignations, but the silence didn’t last long. “Who do we have here?” I opted not to answer. “Mr. Three-Piece Suit. You’re on the wrong bus.” The aisle became her pulpit, the eyes of her congregants widened with every word. “Your kind don’t go where this bus is going. Now what shall I do with you?” Everyone wanted to know, but none more than me. She inched closer and I read her name: Flos. I took a defensive posture, convinced blows were eminent, but all she batted was an eye, a wink only I could see, then she sauntered to the front and spoke to the driver: “You going to run it today?”

            I didn’t know what she meant, but I’d learn soon enough. We came to a stop sign that seemed misplaced. The crossroad barely qualified as a road, but still, as road-signs do, it gave an order and the driver complied. The bus slowed to a stop, he looked both ways, then continued.

“I didn’t think so.”

“This bus obeys the law,” said the driver. “Even if some passengers don’t.”

Tuesday, I traded my suit for something less formal. Vera was waiting on the corner. Again, I sat in back.

            “Look who dressed down today.” Flos had arrived. “Your suit at the cleaners?” Stone faces animated to life. “It’s not your clothes, clothes don’t mean nothing.” She filled tired riders with expectation. She drew even with my row and bent in close, but like the day before, all she did was wink, then walk to the front. “I think I’ll buy some new clothes.”

            “Don’t do it, Flos. He’ll hurt you.”

            “He won’t touch me.”

            And in that moment, I understood why she had become their leader. She gave a glimpse of who they wanted to be, or maybe who they used to be, but the bus told them who they were. They boarded broken, but Flos could fix them, and she was using me to do it.

            “Run it,” she said.

            The bus slowed to a stop, the driver looked both ways, then continued.

            The next day, Flos boarded wearing sunglasses at an hour long before they were needed. She removed her glasses to reveal a dark bruise. “The price of clothes went up,” she said. “Money’s not enough.” She had everyone’s attention, including mine. “I bet Three-Piece pays with money. I bet no one charges him nothing but money.”

            Hard faces softened.

            “You know what I’m doing today? I’m going shopping. I need some nice things.” No one spoke until she spoke again: “Run it!”

            Like before, the bus slowed to a stop, the driver looked both ways, then continued.

            Thursday, things changed. Everyone seemed more distant than the days before. They needed Flos, but her stop was vacant. The driver pulled up anyway, opened the doors, and held them open for no one. At first, I didn’t understand, but by the time we moved on, it made more sense. It was a tribute. Why she deserved it, I didn’t know and still don’t know.       Soon after, we approached the misplaced stop sign. I remembered her words, and since she wasn’t there to say them, I said them instead: “Run it.” Everyone looked at me, then at the driver, who had already begun to slow down. “Run it!” I said again, and this time he backed off the break, laid on the horn, and barreled through.

            “That was for you, Flos,” he said.

            Friday, I drove. On the bus I would’ve been an unwelcome reminder, a rider who didn’t belong. Flos tempered my presence and did whatever she could to bring them to a better place. For three days, I helped her do it. On the fourth day, she helped me.

 

 

Foster Trecost

 

Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work appears in Spelk, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Right Hand Pointing, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.


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