We jumped on another bus. The seats had a chemical scent. The entire bus had a vague chemical odor, as though to assure passengers that it had been cleaned with the strongest antiseptic.
People are so afraid of germs, of the organisms that we cannot see that might harm us, that we forget to consider what kind of harm the poisons we use to kill them might be. I wondered what we inhaled during all those rides on the buses of the city. Some were cleaner than others. Some smelled more chemical than others. I wondered what kind of effect the chemicals had on our bodies.
There is always something to be concerned about. If not the bacteria, than the cleaning agents. It is wise to forget sometimes. As wise as it is to forget that the stove is on and the soup is boiling away, evaporating. Eventually, there will be nothing left. The steam will be all carried away, the once-beautiful flavors all condensed into charcoal at the bottom of the pot along with dry bones and shriveled vegetables.
We pulled cash out of our pockets to pay our fare. They used to take cash, then. Exact change only, please. We pulled coins and crumpled bills and slipped them into the farebox. The bus driver hardly looked at us beyond giving us his acknowledgment that we had paid our fare and should find a seat. His short sleeved blue uniform was pressed. Not a button out of place. Each crease exact. His hat was neat on his head. Curly hair spilled out from the sides of the cap. The hydraulic door closed with a whoosh behind us.
The engine squealed and rumbled back into traffic. We sat facing windows and empty seats. The few other passengers on the bus were each lost in their own worlds. We spied on them, in a way, and the did not seem to care too much. We tried to peek into their lives. We looked at their shopping bags, their backpacks. their purses. The way they kept their eyes trained on a point somewhere beyond the window. Their pupils did not move too much. They had music in their ears or books in their laps. Who knows how long they had been riding this bus. Who knows how long they had been taking this same route, with the same bus driver, at the same time each day. Some of them looked like they had retreated into another world. Another plane that had them somewhere other than in transit.
Not so with us. Our second ride in this city. We had devouring eyes. We tried to catch the skyline as it passed us. We took in the buildings. Some of them tall with mirrored walls, some of them squat and nondescript stucco. Plopped down in what may have once been an empty lot, purely utilitarian. Some of them were splashed with bright colors in an attempt to bring more life to the buildings. Some of the buildings breathed. Some were quiet, barely alive.
Another difference between where we had come from and where we had come to. The sameness at home was different than what we had in our new city. It was less definite. It was a more vague kind of uniformity. There was something in it that felt like it was made for people. I looked at some of the buildings and saw prisons. From the smallest to the largest. They were man-made buildings meant to contain people rather than to be inhabited by people. I wondered what sort of building could contain Eve. I wondered what sort of building could contain the two of us. I wondered whether there were a building large enough to hold our dreams. I wondered whether we would find ourselves inhabiting a prison like the ones we passed as we went away from the ocean. It bothered me to think that we would have to live inside a stucco box with no soul. It worried me. What if our souls were shrunken? What if we became quiet and dead-eyed like so many others on this bus.
Eve told me that it was unfair. She told me to think of the other people on the bus without the veil of judgment. She made up stories about them. She said the woman with the grocery bags lived in a stucco building with three beautiful children who covered the walls with their drawings and school certificates and stories. She told me the quiet man with the earphones stared out the window in the direction of his sweetheart, and that he was in a daze imagining the next time he would see her. She invented a story about us, too. She said we were a couple who had just returned from a day spent at the ocean, skinny dipping and building sandcastles, that we celebrated every anniversary that way and that we were on our way to hot shower to wash the salt out of our hair.
I almost believed her. I did believe her. I believed that we would spend the rest of our years washing salt out of each other’s hair after a day at the ocean on every anniversary. I added to the story that we lived on the top floor of a stucco building, and painted the exterior wild colors. That we painted vines and roses on it so that even in the winter, we would have flowers blooming. That we lived in a building with barred windows but that morning glories crawled all over the bars and every dawn brought us a window of purple and pink backlit by the sun. We passed the bumps of our second bus ride spinning stories about ourselves and everyone. Imagining.
It was always so easy to let my imagination go wild with Eve. She did not accept anything less than the utterly fanciful. “Reality is all the time, is all around us,” she’d say to me, “why should we be so real all the time?” And so we went on. I learned to dream bigger and bigger dreams. I learned to let them happen. She taught me.
The bus dropped us next to the light rail station that would take us eastward. We were not sure where we would end up, but we knew we wanted to go in that direction.
Bright colors, we saw. Different than the grey ocean we had just left. The sky had filled with clouds, but there were ceramic mosaics embedded everywhere in the train station. Observations of the city. Children’s hopes for the future, described with such certainty. Eve took my hands in hers and we sent a small prayer to the universe that those dreams would not be broken.