I Missed My Bus on the Way to School
I remember it like it was yesterday.
I woke up late, thanks to me forgetting to set my alarm the night before. When I saw 7:27 on my alarm clock, I sprang out of bed like a jackrabbit and began pulling my clothes on furiously. I needed to be at my bus stop by 7:35, so that meant I had no time to brush my teeth or eat breakfast today. No, I had forfeited those luxuries due to my little mistake. I hurriedly scooped my books and worksheets into my backpack and dashed down the stairs and out the front door.
I hauled ass to get to the bus stop. Just as I rounded the corner, I could see the last kid getting on the yellow bus. “Hey!” I yelled, but the kid didn’t hear me. I hastened my sprint as the bus began pulling off, smoke pouring from the exhaust.
“Hey!” I yelled again, waving my arms wildly. In the side mirror I made eye contact with the bus driver. The driver had always been a stern old man, so I can’t say that I was surprised to see him give me a dismissive look and shrug as if to say, “Too late, kid.” The driver sped up and I was left behind, dejected, listless, and without a mode of transportation.
My school was about twenty minutes away from the bus stop. I had no money, and had never ridden the public bus anyway. My ten year old mind was in a complete state of panic. I knew my mom would kill me once my teacher called and told her that I was “skipping school.” I sat down on the curb, sighing deeply.
I still can’t explain it exactly, but something didn’t feel right. I had never felt this way before in my life, but something was just…wrong. I felt a chill run down my spine and it had nothing to do with the wind whipping around me. I was even more unsettled due to the fact that the wind sounded chillingly like agonized screams ripping through the air. I looked up and noticed the beat-up, dirt-brown pickup truck chugging slowly down the street towards me. I don’t know why I didn’t run at the sight of it. I merely sat and watched as the truck pulled up right next to me and came to a halt. The driver side window was already rolled down, and I could see a wizened old man wearing a dirty red cap gazing out at me. He flashed me a toothless smile before speaking.
“What’s wrong, kid?”
“I missed my bus,” I said with an air of defeat. The man stared at me for a moment before responding.
“You need a ride?”
Yes, I had been taught to never talk to or accept rides from strangers. Still, I was a desperate ten year old who didn’t want to get into trouble for missing school.
I grabbed my backpack and walked over to the passenger door. I hopped in, slamming the door behind me. The inside of the man’s truck was filthy; There were cans and old food packages on the floor, and the smell was overwhelming. I coughed and reached to let down the window.
“Sorry, kid. That window doesn’t work, and neither does the door, from the inside.” I looked at the man, who was looking at me intently. There was a little bit too much glee in his dark eyes, and I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. “Where do you go to school?” he asked, and I told him. The man smiled again, then began driving. I looked up at his rearview mirror and saw what appeared to be a little girl’s rainbow-colored bracelet hanging from it. My unease was out of control now, and though I tried to look away quickly, the old man caught me looking at it.
“Oh, this? It was my daughter Jessica’s. I think about her everyday.” He reached out and caressed the bracelet. I stared out of the window, noticing that the man was going a completely different way than the bus driver usually did.
“What…what happened to her?” I asked numbly. The old man was quiet for a few long seconds before answering.
“Well…she passed away in a car accident. The roads are dangerous, you know. Especially in this town.”
My heartbeat was increasing by the second. I wondered if the old man had been lying about the door not working. I was strongly considering yanking at it anyway. “How old are you, young lady?”
“Ten,” I replied quickly, trying to hide my nervousness but failing. The old man stared blankly ahead in silence for a few more minutes.
“Yeah…that’s how old my Jessica was when she passed.” He reached for my leg and I instinctively pulled it up. I felt my face turn red when I realized the man was merely reaching for a bag of opened potato chips that had been lying on the seat next to me.
“You okay?” he asked, popping some of the chips into his mouth. I nodded slowly, putting my foot back onto the floor. I looked out of the window and felt relief pour through me like it never had before. We were on the street my school was on. How had we gotten here so quickly? The old man must have taken some kind of shortcut.
The truck pulled to a slow stop in front of the school and the old man hopped out. He walked over to my side and opened the door for me. I climbed out, looking up into his wrinkled face.
“Thanks for the ride, Mister.” The old man nodded, giving me another smile.
“No problem, sweetheart.”
He got back into the truck and drove away. I watched him go, wondering what the hell had just happened. What had my ten-year-old intuition been telling me? This man was clearly harmless, or else I probably wouldn’t be at school right now. I shook my head and walked into the building. To my bewilderment, all of the teachers were crying. I didn’t find out why until a little while later. My bus had never made it to the school. A car had hopped unexpectedly into the bus driver’s lane, and he had swerved hard, causing the bus to topple over the side of a bridge. There were no survivors.