Southern Legitimacy Statement:
I was born in California, but I moved to Louisiana when I was four and grew up in one of the few dry parishes in the state. Two of my first legitimate jobs were cutting grass and planting sweet potatoes and 16 year old me would be ashamed to hear that 31 year old me misses being able to sprawl out on the grass and think about nothing for hours.
I left my small town of 2000+ people and headed to Natchitoches, LA where I earned a BA in English with minors in history and Business Administration (as well as a certain disdain for seeing the fleur dis lis plastered on everything) and more than made up for the aforementioned dry parish situation.
I then moved to Austin, TX in order to complete an internship but returned to Lafayette, LA in order to get my MA in English with a concentration in creative writing.
A few years later, I found myself moving to Houston, TX in order to get a resume, but have decided to call it home since enough of this large city reminds me of Louisiana and I was able to find steady work. Too bad that there are Blue Laws here though.
The buses were all late. People piled up, sitting and standing wherever they could place their bodies. Kids ran around screaming, dropping things on the trodden floors. Some parents took their children’s baubles and stashed them away, forcing the tykes to behave. Others made nervous eye contact with their fellow travelers as the kids stuffed their dirty treasures into their mouths. M. Jenkins folded his hands in his lap. He then tucked them behind his head as he watched a steward herd a group of passengers to the door. Their faces perked up with relief and excitement. They could leave hell soon.
This Tuesday was better for M. Jenkins when compared to the previous one. He was in comfortable clothes and the terminal was just the right type of chilled. His travel bag was lightly packed. He also made sure to not forget his snacks. Last week he was crying in a church, all alone. The guests had left, and the clergy had told him to give it all to God one too many times. Even they couldn’t risk absorbing the apostasy that stemmed from his sadness. Rote caregiving can only go so far. At least here, everyone formed a family, albeit tired and dirty. And there was noise that filled the room.
“Now boarding at Gate E.” The announcer’s voice boomed throughout the terminal. M. Jenkins noted that it was of the automated phone message quality. He smirked to himself and placed his hands back in his lap. Gate E was behind him, and people sitting on the benches opposite of him shuffled out of their seats, bending over to pick up luggage and cursing a touch too loudly for the barometer set by polite society. A reminder chimed out a few minutes later to board the bus. Some stragglers came out of the bathroom and rushed to the line. M. Jenkins didn’t turn around to see the scurry, but instead focused on the sounds of their parade.
M. Jenkins heard the bus rolling off. The terminal grew quiet enough for him to hear the T.V. The news was playing. He couldn’t get over the fact that there was too much news to cover, yet every channel focused on the same narratives. Skewed, yes, but all were tributaries gushing into the lacustrine space of the human mind.
Breaking News: There’s been a report of an active shooter. Three have been confirmed dead. Four more are wounded. We will –
The channel changed. A baseball game was going on. M. Jenkins didn’t care for sports and quickly grew bored of the sportscaster’s displays of shock at the game proceeding normally. He got up, once again glad that he was traveling lightly – he didn’t want to impede on someone else’s day and have them watch his belongings – and walked around a bit. He had to hold his breath as he got closer to the toilets. He wasn’t sure why they weren’t cleaned regularly. People were bound to use them frequently since the blue water on the bus couldn’t be flushed. He wanted to go outside and get some fresh air, but the smoking section was crowded with gossip and cancer cells and the outside perimeter of the bus station looked akin to a refugee camp. He thought about how many times the people shambling about had been told to give it all to God.
His bus should have been here about an hour ago. He wasn’t sure where he was going to go after being left at the altar. He had moved down south to be with the woman he loved, but she had other plans. It took every fiber of his being to push back all the familial warnings. Marrying someone like her would be trouble. Et cetera. Et Cetera. You even quit your job to go down there? I swear the internet done changed everything. You only met her three times and haven’t even slept together. Don’t expect me to drive down there to see the ceremony.
“You look miserable. Where ya’ headed?”
M. Jenkins looked up. He hadn’t realized that he had taken his seat again and was staring off into the distance.
“You can’t hear me?”
M. Jenkins looked around and found a tiny old lady beaming at him.
“Sorry, ma’am. I’m going to Florida first. Not sure where to after that.”
“Florida? Why there? You’re a bit young to be retiring. Then again, the booty there is infamous. I bet that’s why.” She started laughing and sputtering spit. People stared at her, but she didn’t mind. He wanted to join in with her mirth, but this didn’t seem like the right place for it.
“Oh no. I just need to get away for a bit.”
She calmed down enough to form a sentence. “I won’t drag it out of you. Just remember to keep at it. Life can last a long time, especially when you are dead inside.”
She grunted and heaved, pulling herself out of the metal seat. She didn’t have any luggage. He couldn’t smell her, nor had she asked for a bite to eat or some money, so he assumed she had a ticket.
M. Jenkins was sleepy. He’d had fits of rest in his hotel room, but the various minutes of stasis couldn’t sustain him. He told himself that he could nap on the bus, assuming he was left alone. He took a bet on leaving during midday since the travel load should be lighter. Especially since it was in March. He might even get a seat to himself. He pulled out his phone to check the time. The bus was about an hour and a half late at this point. He unlocked his device. She greeted him. Hair down to her shoulders. Smile spread wide with normally stained teeth. He went to his messages and re-read them again, thinking about how words caused all of this.
I just can’t. It’s not you. I just saw life differently.
Why’d you drag me along this far if you wanted out?
Five hours of time separated the answer.
I’m going to hate you for this forever. – Saved in Drafts
The intercom turned on. The announcer was different and much rougher, but he was glad to hear what he did.
“Now boarding at Gate C. If you’re headed to Beaumont, Baton Rouge, Mobil, Panama City, head to Gate C.”
Small cheers cloaked in pejoratives, sighs, and rage flew into the air. M. Jenkins wasn’t expecting a refund nor an explanation for the delay. He just hoped the bus worked. This had been his life for a few years now, traveling for work or love. According to the short biographies listed on peoples’ dating profiles, a lot of souls find both on the open roads or across the seas. Even in the airways, looking down at the skylines, imagining that the tattoos that they inspire would look unique on them.
He walked over to the gate. He’d purchased a normal ticket, which meant that he had to wait for the priority boarders to get on first. The whole situation was a farce really. “Priority” just meant that you were guaranteed a seat if and when overbooking happened. It didn’t mean that you got your choice of seat. That would be worth the extra coin. He whipped out his phone – a force of habit – in order to text her about his little mental quip. He re-read the draft message in order to remind himself that he should learn to stop doing such things. He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, sniffing loudly. Allergies, he’d say.
He tried to line up perfectly behind the man in front of him. Something about order made him happy. If he were rigid enough with his actions, maybe others would be too. As if some pulse radiated from his body every time he separated the recycling, or when he made sure to keep the whites out of the colors. The man in front of him tossed his bag on the ground, did an about-face and stared pointedly at M. Jenkins. The coda was picked up. Instead of embracing the vibes that M. Jenkins was putting out, this man shunned order and civility, placing the burden on the stranger behind him. Don’t step over my bag, and make sure that nobody snatches it. The man walked away. M. Jenkins didn’t look where to.
Moments later, the bus driver came and started collecting tickets. One by one, the people boarded the bus. The traveler behind M. Jenkins pushed him forward. He tripped over the bag, but he didn’t fall. He looked back at the person who pushed him. She shrugged. He had no choice but move or be passed up like the discarded bag. He shuffled forward and handed the driver his ticket when his turn came up. The driver scanned it with his device, ripping the boarding pass off and giving the itinerary back to M. Jenkins.
“Florida, huh. One more Legendary Florida Man story to look forward to!?”
The driver laughed and clapped M. Jenkins on the shoulder. He smiled and boarded the bus. There were previous passengers from wherever the bus had traveled. Everyone had avoided the very back of the bus, however. That’s where the toilet was. It would still be odorous even if nobody had used it. M. Jenkins dashed towards the back. Most people avoided his gaze, thinking that he would ask for a seat that they had placed their bags or food in. The old lady he met earlier beamed at him. He nodded towards her. The man sitting with her looked up from his phone to see what was making her happy. M. Jenkins pressed on.
He shoved his bag into the carry-on rack with ease. Yet again, he was glad that he traveled light. He avoided having to fight with the taught elastic ropes used to secure peoples’ belongings. He took the seat by the window, letting relief flow into his body for the first time in days. It was even easier to relax when he could stare at the people milling about outside. Workers loaded buses. Some chained smoked. He got lost in his head, wondering about all the stories they must be discussing with each other down there. All of the secrets strangers share with each other when they know that only the strings of fate could tie them back into the same place once the buses rolled away. He pulled out his phone and scrolled through various pictures in his gallery. There was one in which he was alone, smiling about nothing. He selected it for his background image.
He heard someone forcing luggage into the carry-on storage. His eyes were closed due to finding some comfort, but the noise caused him to snap them open. He looked out into the aisle and saw a hairy belly button jiggling with exertion. The passenger finally got his bag to fit and then plopped down by M. Jenkins. It was the same guy that had tried to will him into holding his place as he scurried out of the line. He had his headphones in and didn’t appear to have much interest in the outside world. He banged his head softly to the whirlwind of beats, percussions, and twangings of the instruments.
M. Jenkins rolled his body towards the window, forcing the armrest up so that it wouldn’t stab him in the stomach. He thought that was the only source of the ache. The bus announcer started speaking over the intercom. The voice kept fading in and out. People started coughing while others carried on with conversations about yesterday. M. Jenkins closed his eyes as the bus pulled out of the station. He wrapped his arms around his stomach. He was being brought back into his body. The week crashed back into him.
He pulled out his phone and went to the draft message and erased it.
I still love you.
The bus kept moving, navigating the tight roads of the inner city.
Don’t. I love you though.
The wheels sped up on the interstate. He clutched at his stomach even more. He shuffled, indicating that he wanted to get out of his seat. His fellow traveler glared at him, forcing him to roll back over and stare out the window and watch the city evaporate into wilderness. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his own pair of earbuds and slipped them into the phone’s jack.
An advertisement played on the streaming site.
“Side effects include: Depression, thoughts of suicide, mood swings, weight loss, among others. Please see your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms because they might be signs of a serious – sometimes fatal – condition.”
M. Jenkins pulled out a stick of gum from his pants and plopped it into his mouth, chewing in tempo with the song that finally played. His mind drifted off into memory, that lucid plane of various pasts. In one of those, she told him that mint settled the stomach. At least that’s what her granny told her. He lingered, holding on to something he couldn’t have. The bus hit a pothole and the vehicle shuddered in protest. His head vibrated on the window pulling him out of his head.
He saw the phone in his hand, registering what he had just sent her. He slid the phone back in his pocket and continued to chew, hoping that her granny was right.