The Long Way

Some old friends and I were traveling across the country in a school bus filled with passengers.  The bus seemed ever westward, the setting sun streaming in through the windshield, everyone shading their eyes in the glare.  We were told that the driver was trying to make special time.  He was trying to make the coast in ten hours without stops.  My friends cheered him on, but I speculated at the madness of it.  I pointed out the wild heedless turns that the driver was making as he barreled along the highway.

I almost got thrown from the bus in one of these turns.  We were all leaning from the window, howling in the rushing wind as young road-faring passengers tend to do, when the bus cut a sharp left to follow an interchange on the freeway.  I felt myself propelled forward, out into the open with nothing to grab hold of.  The guardrail loomed large before me, and I could almost taste the metallic edge of it before the bus settled back on its axles and someone pulled me back inside.

This incident rattled the driver, and he decided that my friends and I were trouble and he didn’t want us on his bus.  At the next opportunity, he dropped us on a back road in the middle of some crackerbox town in the Midwest.  It was a fresh blue Sunday morning and my friends were eager to keep moving.  Undeterred by losing our ride, they cut straight across the land.  They cut right through people’s yards, round their garages and doghouses and hen houses and clotheslines.  They scrambled down dirt alleyways.  They hopped fences both wood and wire, and romped across the untended fields beyond.

I struggled to keep up with them, but I wasn’t as nimble over a fence or as fast on my feet.  I fell too far behind and then they were gone.  I plodded along the roadside in the drainage ditch, alone now.  The days passed just as carelessly as the cars that whizzed by without stopping.  My beard grew long and ragged.  I grew lean, my eyes haunted.  I lived off the fruits and insects of the land.  I read a book that I found discarded in the tall weeds.  I paused occasionally outside a roundhouse to hear the warm music thumping within.  I sampled these small pleasures.  I began to forget who I was.

Finally, after years untold, I arrived at my destination.  A gleaming steel and glass hotel towered over me, the morning light catching the windows just so.  The air was clean and cool.  Crowds of people passed briskly on the walk out front with crisp suits and steaming coffee cups, pausing only to check their watches or fold a newspaper under their arm.  I stood among them like a bewildered animal.  There was a family I was supposed to meet.  I had come all this way to see them.  I scanned the passing faces, looking for them.  But I had been too long traveling, and I had missed them.

And then the crowd parted and I saw a young boy that I thought I knew, standing shorter than the rest and holding his mother’s hand.  The father was there too, and a mother-in-law and someone’s aunt.  But as I approached, I saw that it wasn’t the family I was looking for.  They looked a bit like them, but they were strangers all the same.  Still, I had come so far.  I drew them back into the hotel, and we all took our seats on some leather couches off the main lobby.  They all stared at me, anxious to hear what I had to say, but somehow I couldn’t find the words.

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