Juxtaposition

I wrote this story in 2003 for Hawaii Pacific University’s Literary Magazine – Wanderlust.

Juxtaposition

There were no seats available. The Greyhound bus station in Newark was filled to capacity. Yellow light chased its way in through large dirty windows, illuminating every patron’s face, as though mandated by God. A group of Muslim women, shrouded in dark cloth, too hot for New Jersey summer, sat near a ringing pay phone holding babies, some crying, some sleeping. A short black girl with long legs and long arms entered the building purposefully, darting like a swift gazelle towards the payphone, dodging suitcases and outstretched feet on her way. This room was a swirl of particles, dust, a cloud of skin and dirt. Ticket vendors shouted dutifully, “NEXT.” Shrill infant cries, old man sneezes, mother-daughter chatter, the crinkle of turning newspaper, the movement of skin in thin vinyl windbreakers, all combined to produce a cacophony of life expecting to go on and soon.

Janice sat in the midst of all this noise, listening. Her mother had once told her that eavesdropping was rude, but Janice had never been able to stop herself from tuning in to other’s conversations. Sometimes when engaged in her own, she’d try to multi-task, testing herself to see if she could be in two places at once, by looking at whoever was speaking to her, but listening to those around her instead. She knew it was considered rude, but only did it sometimes.

Behind her sat an older man, tall and wiry, wearing a brown tweed hat with an orange feather in it. His voice was deep, the kind that had become richer through years of shouting, talking, and singing, more confident with experience, better with time. Janice could tell by the way he spoke that he didn’t allow others to prove him wrong. He sat next to a plump woman who spoke little English, but nodded along to his words anyway, either too polite to detach herself from his ranting or perhaps too lazy to attempt to explain that she didn’t understand him anyway.

“You’ve got to be careful,” he scolded her, as if she were his granddaughter or niece, though they were obviously fairly close in age, “Traveling alone is not wise for a woman like yourself, not wise for any woman really, especially not on the Greyhound here. Sure it’s cheap, that’s why I travel this way, but where you save you skimp on security. You could be seated next to a madman and not even know it. A bonafide madman.”

Janice could see, out of the corner of her eye, the woman glance up at him nervously, giggling, and nodding her head saying the only word she knew, “Yes, yes.” Perhaps hoping agreement would shut him up. Janice smiled.

“What you smiling for girl. Seems to me if you in this station, and not an airport, you shouldn’t be smiling at all.”

Janice jumped. She’d tried to remain invisible, by watching but not making eye contact, by staying seated, by keeping her body closed, trying to ward off inspection. She’d tried this before, but it never worked, someone always talked to her and nine times out of ten that someone was male. She knew exactly what he was implying, but asked anyway, “What do you mean,” her head turning in his direction, but her body still closed, legs crossed, arms crossed.

“You all blond blue-eyed and rich looking, why you ain’t taking a plane or something, you don’t belong in no bus station,” he prodded. Though she’d known what he was implying before he’d answered, she certainly hadn’t felt uncomfortable or out of place in that tightly packed room.

“I bought my own ticket. Bus tickets are cheap.” Janice had been visiting a friend on theJerseyshore, and her parents, annoyed that she wasn’t yearning to spend every moment of her summer vacation with them, insisted that she purchase the ticket herself. “It’s about time you started paying for your wants, young lady,” her father had scolded.

Her upbringing should have made her afraid, conditioned her to be wary of young black men, but she convinced herself that she wasn’t, the only thing that she really felt separated them was that he was a man and she was a woman. Still she could hear her mother’s voice dripping with southern belief, drilling in prejudice as though it were just as important as personal hygiene, “They’re from a different culture, honey, stay away from them, especially the men.”

What would it be like to have sex with him? How different could it be really? Janice didn’t want him at all, but wanted to know if they were all the same, so she could tell her mother so. She giggled both in disgust and amusement. Sane people aren’t supposed to be so twisted. The image of his nakedness and her own, up against the filthy station wall, made her shiver.

“You cute, boo, real cute,” he said licking his lips, eyeing her, responding to her laugh, her shiver, reading things she hadn’t said. Janice didn’t look at him. Instead, she pulled a book, titled Mirrors Every Where; A guide to overcoming vanity and superficiality, from the plastic bag that sat wedged between her velour covered thigh and the seat she inhabited. For a moment she considered reading the fashion magazine she’d bought instead, a reward, she’d told herself for making progress on the book. A family friend, a boy she’d grown up with, had inadvertently called her shallow. He’d caught her leaving his birthday party early because another girl was wearing her same shoes. “Who cares,” she’d heard him say, “No one looks at her shoes anyway.” The guys around him had burst into hysterics.

The comment and laughter had really affected her. They were right, she’d decided, she focused too much on her appearance. It was then that she resolved that a self help book would begin her long journey of inner discovery. She was on Chapter 3: Put down that mirror, pick up your self worth.

“Oh. All right, boo. I see how it is, you too good to talk to me now,” he gave her one last look over, shook his head, and tuned his attention to the walkman in his lap, turning up the volume, loud, as if his head were a portable stereo.

Janice attempted to conceal her smile, attempted to conceal the smugness that came from some victory she felt she’d won. She twisted her glossed lips into a frown, fighting with the muscles of her face as if with a stubborn can opener. Her eyes betrayed her, she knew, so she closed them.

She didn’t see the deaf man enter. She heard the bells of the glass door singing an entrance, heard the hush of conversations, the “No thank you’s” of those more experienced with this kind of thing. Her eyes opened. A tall lanky younger man bopped around the station. His hair was blond, cut short to his head. A red sweat band adorned his high forehead. A yellowing white tank top exposed muscled arms and shoulders, baggy shorts hung past his knees, and his old red high tops supported taut calves. This man passed out white pamphlets. Most people were curious, most accepted. Before Janice had a chance to wonder what he, a young, somewhat attractive white male, was doing dressed like he belonged in the ghetto, he approached her via his off balanced walk. His awkward stride made it look as if he was dancing around the luggage that took up most of the linoleum floor.

She wanted something from him: eye contact. She could tell he avoided it, but she insisted upon finding him. She didn’t accept what he offered until, finally, she succeeded in catching his darting eyes. Their minds met for a brief moment. Locked. He saw her, she him. She attempted to establish a friendly connection with this young man, in whom she hoped to find an ally. Involuntarily, the skin on her arms quivered as goose bumps emerged. Committing her face to memory he handed her a pamphlet and looked away, then sauntered on.

The pesky man next to her jerked the pamphlet from her hand, “What’s this shit?” the blare of his walkman still pulsating from his head, he spoke loudly, unable to gauge his voice. Janice gave him a side ways glance then turned her attention to the source of his curiosity.

The pamphlet was an 8 ½ x 11 white paper folded in four squares. Three squares had sign language on them, hands contorted into different symbols in foggy black and white ink, showing the various gestures for love, help, I’m hungry, etc. The fourth square read: I am deaf. I make these in order to feed my family. Please donate what you can. Thank You. God Bless.

Music Man, as Janice had suddenly named the annoying man next to her, quickly lost interest and retracted back into the abrasive thumping of his headphones.  Janice looked at the crisp paper for a minute more, unfolding it to see that the beggar had included the alphabet. He sure didn’t look deaf, but then what does deaf look like? She remembered learning the sign for I love you in high school. Her boyfriend junior year had taken the class to get out of one of the more traditional foreign languages. Janice remembered helping him with his homework. Little else cemented itself in her memories in regards to him or the sign language. She shoved the pamphlet in the tote bag under her feet. She didn’t feel like refreshing her sign language or daydreaming about some boyfriend whose name she couldn’t remember.

The jingle of door bells brought with it the clamor of passing traffic and, once again, the deaf man shuffled into the crowded bus station. The babies had stopped crying moments before and the gazelle like girl had finished her phone call even earlier. Though it had only been moments since the man had disrupted conversations with his plea for a dollar, the waiting customers of that New Jersey Greyhound stop had settled into a unified silence. The man behind Janice, the one lecturing the Latinawomen next to him, had finally quieted, and sat straight, still, but with his large eyes, closed, resting. The young deaf man began approaching those to whom he’d passed out the fliers, his eyes still averting contact and his hand outstretched. After the first person had fumbled for his wallet, others reached for theirs ahead of time. No one really wanted to give this man their money, hard earned or not, they just wanted to be left alone, even if they had to buy solitude. Janice did the same, as he approached her next. His eyes met hers for an instant, cold and uninterested, aware of her place in the world above his, as he stretched out his hand, palm up. She reached into her wallet, plucking from it a dollar bill, not looking at the designer pocket book she held, but at this person who wanted from her. His skin was clean looking, smooth to the touch she was sure, his shoulders broad, the shins hiding under sagging shorts, were muscled, like his exposed shoulders. He seemed perfectly capable, confident, and coherent. Maybe he could get a job just like the rest of us. As she passed over what she assumed was a dollar, she noticed Music Man watching her, shaking his head at her generosity. The deaf man seized the money without thanks or acknowledgement, and continued his procession. Janice was glad to be rid of him, he made her uncomfortable, though she’d felt some odd connection that she attributed to their shared race, it wasn’t one of warmth and camaraderie.

“BOO! You just gave that fake fool A HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL!” Music Man’s saliva jumped from his mouth like anxious sperm, as though to emphasize Janice’s mistake.

Her face turned, a calm bored sky suddenly gone dark with black clouds ready to give birth to angry tears. “No! No, I did not?” her words a question posted to the god’s of bad luck, as though her actions had been controlled by someone else, as though her hands were jerked into motion by a puppeteer. Shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT! She quickly spread open the lips of her wallet with the vigor of a hurried rapist. Into the guts of it she peered, disgusted to find, two one dollar bills laughing up at her, their miniscule value mocking her loss. So, because he freaked me out, I couldn’t even look at the money I was giving him. I’m an idiot! It’s not like I can chase after him, “Excuse me, Mr. Deafman can I have back the ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL, I’ll give you a dollar instead. Me? Generous? No, it was an accident! Oh, that’s right, you can’t fucking hear me anyway!

Behind her, the man in the hat began talking to the woman again, but this time, loud enough, so that his voice filled the already saturated station, “No body needs to beg inAmerica,” he preached, “We’ve got welfare, Federal Assistance, Social Security, Unemployment pay. That man’s not going to feed his family, he’s going to buy some crack!” Some, those who’d ignored the beggar’s attempts, nodded their heads in agreement; others sat stiffly, feeling duped, bothered that they’d allowed even a dollar to slip through their fingers.

“What you tripping for? You rich, remember? Rich and white,” Music Man’s laughter mingled with his words. Letting out a final “Ha,” as if to notify her that he didn’t feel sorry for her in the slightest, he turned his walkman up, even louder this time. Janice was speechless. She angrily threw the violated wallet back into her tote.

~~~

On the bus, things weren’t much better.  About 30 minutes into the trip the air-conditioner broke. Quickly the cool air that had been preserving the 40 or so bodies on the Greyhound began to mingle with the heat they produced and that of an afternoon sun outside. Sweat waits for no one and delights in overpowering deodorant’s dry claims of clean smelling arm pits. Body odor mingled, mixing together putridly producing a stench like reheated onion soup.

“It’s gonna get worse,” the man, sitting next to Janice, said. Disgusted with herself and the entirety of the human race, Janice had pushed herself up against the bus window, closing, folding her body into an upright fetal position, soaking in irritation, annoyed that her parents hadn’t paid for a plane ticket and annoyed even more so that the hundred dollars she’d had left over from her trip was now in the hands of a street person. She had planned to use that money to buy a dress she’d been eyeing all summer.

Without unfolding she answered, “What’s gonna get worse?” trying unsuccessfully to disguise the patronizing tone that laced her voice.

“The murders inLos Angeles,” this time his voice revealed more boy than man.

“Huh?” Janice expected the young man to complain about the air conditioning, but obviously the heat was the last thing on his mind. He had captured her attention. Twisting toward him she asked, “A-are y-you from there?”

“Yup, but I been here for 10 years, we left after it happened, when I was seven,” the boy didn’t look at Janice when he spoke, but kept his eyes straight ahead, or tried to, his right eye seemed to get left behind occasionally and if one examined him closely, it was evident that this eye was lazy. He was a large person, tall enough to play a forward on any basketball team and thick enough so as to ward off any high school bullies. He had a large round head with full cheeks and lips. His skin was a warm brown. Though his eyes looked nervous, the thick dark lashes that framed them, made him look like a sad little doll trapped in a brute’s body.

Janice untangled her limbs, ran her manicured fingers through her fine pale hair, and sat up straight, composing her posture and her attitude. Her curiosity had deepened. Looking around she realized that she was one of the only white people on the bus as she had been in the station. Not that it matters.

“So you’re only 17 years old,” she blurted, amused. They were only 4 years apart, her being 21, but the difference between high school and college mattered, at least to Janice. Something about him, the lazy eye perhaps, made her nervous, but she convinced herself that he was harmless.

“We turned 17 last week, my Mom had a party for us,” this time he glanced sideways at her for a brief moment, and then looked down at his shoes. He wore tattered Nike high tops. “Today is the day my brother died,” he stated his voice no different than before.

“That’s horrible,” Janice’s stiff attitude was weakened for a moment and she nearly forgot about her lost money. When you think you’ve got it bad, someone’s definitely got it worse. “What happened,” she continued, after a brief pause in which she wondered if, perhaps, he were making it all up to impress her.

“My brother’s girl friend shot him in front of our house, I was there. I saw her shoot my twin brother in the head. His blood got all over me. I know she did it on purpose,” the boy’s voice had accumulated anger now.

“But, you’re only 17, so that would mean you were ten years old when it happened. Why would anyone do that?” Though she felt a tremor of sadness for him, he was making her nervous and she was beginning to wish she’d sat somewhere else. She heard Music Man’s headphones blaring behind them, the pounding beat of inaudible rap music alluring.

The boy shook his head, “She was jealous. She though my brother was with other girls.”

“WHAT? You guys were only 10 years old. You were little kids. You should’ve been riding bikes or flying kites or something,” Janice said, shocked. She’d never even known anyone who had a gun. Those stories her mother had told her of little kids killing each other, had simply been made up to scare she and her brother into peaceful play.

“Things are different where I grew up,” the boy explained, his head shaking, his eyes moving in the opposite direction, “I held my twin brother when he bled to death. That stupid bitch just walked away. That stupid bitch murdered my brother.”

Janice pictured him as a little boy. Those thick eyelashes soaked with tears, those puffy cheeks splattered with his brother’s warm blood, all part of his 10 year old body racked with sobs. She shuddered.

“But, what about the police? Isn’t she in jail or juvenile hall?” any amusement Janice had had was replaced with uneasiness. From her perception, one constructed of huge family dinners and private schools, such tragedy was better left in the news, in the bad neighborhoods of big cities, in the songs of gangster rappers.

“They said it was an accident. My mama couldn’t afford some fancy lawyer. That bitch got away. That stupid bitch just walked away like it was nothing,” the boy stopped, wondering if he should reveal his plan. “My brother, he wants me to find her and kill her. I remember where she lives. He showed me. We used to jump on an old mattress in her back yard.”

Janice pictured three happy, little kids in a dirty back yard, laughing and jumping, the boy, his twin identical, and the little girl, who in her imagination had tightly braided corn rows.

“That was years ago. Aren’t you safer staying on the east coast, trying to make your brother proud,” Janice was trying to be reasonable. She really wanted to say that she agreed that it probably was an accident, but decided against it. She let her eyes stray out the window, the grey factories to her right, reminded her of the oppressiveNew Jersey heat that had seeped into the bus. With a sweaty palm, a response to the disturbed teenager next to her, she wiped moisture from her forehead and reached down to grab the pamphlet she’d received in the bus station. Anxiously, she began fanning herself. The curiosity she’d felt had since been replaced with a gnawing annoyance. She wanted him to shut up so she could go back to reading her book. He was beginning to depress her and she was sorry that she’d responded to his first statement.

“I’m going to kill her.”

“Y-you are?” she asked reluctantly. She’d heard enough and began to doubt this boy’s sanity. She figured she’d just play along, after all, she did feel sorry for him.

“I still see my brother,” the teenager answered, ignoring her question. His tone could have squeezed tears from even the coldest, hardest rock. Involuntarily, Janice’s eyes filled with moisture and a queasy feeling settled in her intestines.

“Y-you do?” she asked, any doubts she’d had about his sanity were quickly abolished. Whatever sadness she had realized was just as swiftly replaced with the realization of his fragile emotional state and placed in Janice a detached concern. Nevertheless, the prepubescent tears in her eyes sat in their rims, waiting patiently to slide down her cheeks, to allow him evidence of contrived compassion. Janice would cry if it was necessary.

“Sometimes I’ll be sleeping and when I wake-up, I’ll see him sitting on the end of the bed, just like he used to when we were little. He’s really there. Cept’ he’s grown. Like me. We looked the same when we were 10. We look the same now,” again he shook his head, stiffly, as if trying to shake off the sadness, as a wet dog shakes after a dreadful flea bath.  “No one can understand,” he proceeded, whispering now, “We were born together.

“I-I can’t imagine what that must feel like,” Janice offered, her voice wavering. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say. She thought for a moment about what it would be like to lose her brother. Suddenly the queasiness that had toyed with her guts was replaced with a sharp pang of selfish guilt. The poor kid needs me and all I can think about is reading my stupid book. I’m the one that needs to get a head exam!

“That’s why I’ve got to kill that little bitch,” he confessed, still in a whisper, so as to keep his plot concealed from the other passengers. “I’m going next month. My cousin said he’d help me after he gets enough money to pay for the trip. My momma doesn’t know, but she wants me to do it. I know she does.”

“Do you think revenge will really make you feel any better?” Janice asked, her words revealing a formula that her society had ingrained in her. Revenge is wrong, she’d been taught. We should forgive. We should love and accept everyone. Even if they hurt us. Especially if they hurt us. Even if they kill someone we love.

            “Certainly will,” the boy responded. Before he could continue, the bus driver’s voice pierced the thick hot air. The crackle of old speakers made him sound like a haunted tour guide.

“Sorry bout’ the air conditioner folks. We’ll be making a quick stop here inOak Ridge, to see if someone can give her a fix. Feel free to get off the bus for some fresh air. We’ll prob’ly be here an hour or so.”

~~~

As the tired vessel slowed and turned into a parking lot next to a dilapidated bus station, much less impressive than the massive Union Station from where they’d come, Janice began to think. Maybe, my giving that hundred dollar bill to the deaf man was a Godsend. Maybe that old guy behind me was wrong. He needed that money much more than I did. Sure, I was going to buy a new dress, but so what? I’ve never gone hungry. My family loves me. My college education is paid for. We have a big house, with a three car garage, and a basketball hoop. This was God’s way of showing me how lucky I am. A hundred dollars in nothing! I’m sure Dad would buy me that dress if I really wanted it. But, I don’t even want it anymore. I’m turning over a new leaf. I want to HELP people. People like the poor boy next to me. People like everyone on this bus!

The bus lurched to a stop. Wet, slimy bodies began to descend from it, their eyes filled with the exhaustion of heat and strange conversations. The boy next to Janice remained seated and Music Man filed in behind her. Ahead of them, walking slowly, crawled the Muslim women and their children, the old man with the hat, theLatinawoman, the beautiful gazelle like girl, and a handful of other scraggly individuals she’d seen in the bus station.

As they made their way toward the front of the bus, Music Man leaned into her, murmuring in her ear, his breath making the hair on the back of her neck stand at attention, “You seated next to a crazy one ain’t yay boo.”

Hours earlier Janice would have allowed her face to contort into an expression of disgust, but she was doing her best to be tolerant. She didn’t respond to Music Man and he seemed to find her lack of one amusing, as he broke the procession’s silent march with his booming laughter. He’s making fun of me, but I don’t care. Janice felt untouchable. She couldn’t wait to get off the bus, to call someone to tell someone, her best friend maybe, about the miracle that had happened to her that day. She was sure God had spoken to her through the unfortunate deaf man.

Disappointed to find that there would be no solace from the heat inside the bus station, for it did not have an air-conditioner, most of the passengers congregated outside at picnic tables in a shaded area to the side of the shoddy building. Janice had left her cellular phone at home by accident, and wished, more than anything that she’d brought it, realizing that none of her friend’s numbers were committed to memory. I’m so dependent on material things. Instead of attempting to remember, as she new it was futile, she sat at one of the picnic tables and began browsing through the magazine she’d been so anxious to look at on the bus. Starving monsters stared back at her. Hungry for her money, their eyes attempted to seduce, their bodies sleek, their hair, their lives perfect examples of what to achieve. She rolled it up in disgust and threw it into a nearby trash can, one brimming with flies and yellow jackets, thriving in the smothering afternoon heat. They are no real than I am. Something was changing within Janice and it sparked both anxiety and excitement. Looking around, watching the people she’d been surrounded by for so many hours that day, she felt that she transcended socioeconomic class, color, and creed. Janice suddenly realized that none of it mattered. People were people, whether they came haunted with memories of child hood murders or shroud in thick clothe representing devotion on hot eastern summer days. I am one of them.

~~~

Back on the bus, the air conditioner still wasn’t fixed. The moisture from closely packed bodies had yet to evaporate off the bus seats and the weary patrons used wet papers towels from the bus station bathroom to cool themselves. Irritation permeated throughout. Various arguments had erupted as patrons scrambled to snag window seats because the breeze evoked by the bus’ motion was the only source of fresh air.

Janice debated on whether or not she wanted to sit by the 17 year old for the next part of the trip. She knew that by relocating she’d be forced to start all over again with another stranger who could turn out to be even odder than he had. She also knew that by purposely taking a new seat, she’d be openly insulting him and, based on what she new so far, she did not want to disgruntle him. Despite that, she felt for him and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Perhaps by sitting next to him, she could provide some comfort. As she made her way back to the seat, she noticed he had fallen asleep. She was disappointed because she was going to offer him the window seat, as her first good deed for the day. He deserves the cold air more than I do.

            As the tired Greyhound growled to a start, Janice noticed something in front of the bus that she hadn’t been of aware of prior to their stop. It was possible that he’d been there all along, but Janice didn’t think so. Above all the others, she saw a shaved blond head adorned by a red sweat band. It’s got to be him. He must’ve used my money to buy this bus ticket. He must’ve been stranded in Newark and now he’s headed home. Home to his starving children and young poor wife, who isn’t deaf but communicates with him in sign language.

 If the bus hadn’t started moving, Janice would’ve jumped up and run to him. While approaching him she would’ve wondered what she was doing, for she didn’t speak sign language and wouldn’t have been able to communicate with him anyway. But somehow, she was sure, through the assistance of God, she’d be able to get her point across. Not wanting to upset the already flustered bus driver she remained seated. She swore to herself that at the next stop, she’d do her best to make friends with the deaf man, but until then, exhaustion sat on her eyes like an overweight sandman. Faster than she could’ve thought it, she was asleep.

~~~

            Exactly an hour later, for it had planned it so, Janice awoke to the beautiful gazelle’s screaming voice. “He’s got a gun,” she shouted.

As if woken in the middle of an intense dream her body shook with a tremor of disrupted sleep. Disoriented, she thought she noticed that the boy next to her was shaking, but she wasn’t sure. In the middle of the bus stood the supposed deaf man, brandishing the shiny weapon. She saw, once again, the cognitive confidence that he had projected in the bus station, a poise that assured the world that it owed him everything.

“Nobody fucking move!” he demanded, enunciating his words perfectly. His exposed arms glistened with sweat and his yellowing tank top had turned grey with wetness. It was now dusk and the bus filled with the purple light of the setting sun. The man’s face was illuminated, causing his eyes to glow. He paced up and down the first half of the bus aisle, back and forth, marking his territory.

Proceeding to the front, getting extremely close to the bus driver he began to give instructions. From where Janice sat she could see the driver look up at him with nervous attention. His words became a jumble of noise to her. She sat, rigid with fear. The entire bus had become silent and still, playing dead. The old man had been right. Her only hope was to catch his eye as she had in Newark. She knew he’d remember her, was sure of it, and was sure that he’d repay her for her kindness. How could he possibly hurt me after what I did for him? How could he possibly hurt me, the only white person, other than himself, on this bus? I know he’ll listen to me. I know he’ll spare us, if only I can make eye contact again.

“If you make a sound you die,” the young man ordered to the whimpering Muslim women, his voice authoritative and unfeeling. He held his gun above their heads, threatening to hit them and watched as they cowered together like scared animals. His eyes held the cold purposeful glare they had in the bus station, but something was missing: restraint.

Janice suddenly felt a surge of heroism. After everything she’d realized in the past few hours, she was sure this was her chance to DOsomething. She glanced sideways past the big black boy next to her; he was twice the hijacker’s size, but shivered like a lap dog. I’ve got to save this bus. I’ve got to save this poor kid; he’s already experienced so much pain. This is my chance!

As the hijacker sauntered towards the back of the bus, she craned her neck up towards him. Aware of the perilous situation he had created, he noticed her overture and thundered, “What the fuck are you doing.”

Janice was no longer afraid. She stood up quickly, her small frame defying her strong intentions. “Don’t you remember me?” she asked, her voice caramelized with a fake sweetness, a tone she used with men from whom she wanted something.

He laughed, but retained his rigidity. He stepped closer to her, cocking his head to the side in amusement, looking her up and down mockingly. “You’re that stupid cunt that gave me $100 back inJersey,” he answered.

She took a deep breath and continued, “I just figured that because I helped you out, you would do the same and spare our lives. You seem like a smart person and I can tell that your bitter attitude is just a façade.”

With that he erupted into tyrannical laughter as though he was the king and she,

merely a court jester there for his entertainment. She smiled, misinterpreting his laughter. I knew he had a heart, I just knew it.

Janice had captured his attention, diverting him from his goal. He sensed movement behind him and other restlessness among the passengers. He had to reclaim control as she was attempting, pitifully, to wrangle it from him.

“Façade, huh?” he mimicked her tone, all hilarity gone from his voice.

“We all build walls around our inner selves to protect our emotions from being hurt. Everyone does it. Even me. This whole thing is just a way for you to express your inner turmoil,” she spoke boldly, glad she’d read some of Mirrors Every Where after all. She was sure that the knowledge she’d acquired from that book would be helpful in such a delicate situation.

“Oh yeah, so me holding this bus up has absolutely nothing to do with hunger, or family medical bills or even greed. It’s just an extension of my fucked up inner self.

“Exactly!” Janice smiled victoriously.

“I’ll definitely think long and hard about what you’ve just said, but while I’m thinking, I’ll need you to take a fucking seat, next to your friend there, until I decide what I’m going to do to repay you for your generosity.” With each word he twirled the gun in her face, reminding her that she’d better obey him.

Janice sat down triumphantly, her gaze still focused keenly on the hijacker’s face. She glanced at the boy next to her, who had, as she’d intended, stopped shaking. He gaped at her, shocked. I knew I could help them all.

The hijacker turned around and began walking towards the front of the bus once again, but stopped mid-stride turning back towards her. Janice knew he was nearing the point of surrender and expected him to burst into tears, drop to his knees, and beg God for forgiveness.

His tall frame cast a gloomy shadow on her as he approached.

The other passengers had no time to cover their ears; remnants of the gunshot rang, like a thousand tiny bells, obstructing their hearing, muddling their thoughts.  The boy next to Janice began to sob as blood splattered his cheeks once again. Eyes glistening with tears, he recoiled, rolling his body into a deferent ball. Janice’s lifeless body collapsed on him, her hot blood staining his dark skin black.

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