Chapter 1: The Bus Stop
The rain became harsh.
Storms brew more than usual.
Everyone is terrified of flooding except me.
I find it rather soothing, the rain washing away the gases of motor machines and toxic fumes of factories.
It’ll begin to smell like earth.
Then a rainbow will come right after.
It’s simple, the way a storm works alongside nature. It brings torrent disasters creating masses of greens of vegetation for the human race then afterward an iridescent of colors will come.
The perfect combination of dark and light work together.
I don’t mind using a bus to go to places.
It has a particular smell.
You see different people.
The way they look with different hairs, eyes, mouths, and noses.
All intricate shapes and sizes
The bus is okay because people are okay.
However, I wear earphones to slip out the noise surrounding me. I don’t like sound nor lights nor people. I want the quiet space, the time I take to be alone.
No one to distract me from working or from my thoughts. My gloomy day would be better spent at home sitting near my bay window sipping a warm cup of hot cocoa with a good book to read.
I felt the bus come to a halt which signals that my stop is here.
I walk off with the rest of the people, and I’m bombarded with smells, lights, storms, and crowds.
I can feel the anxiety crawling on my skin that makes me feel like I’ll explode in tiny pieces, yet I control myself.
“One, two, three, blue, purple, yellow, dogs, cats, lizards,” I repeat those words underneath my breath. It helps to calm myself whenever I’m in a situation where I don’t feel comfortable. I say them because they’re either something I like speaking or something that is a favorite of mine.
Like the lizard, I have a pet lizard that smiles, but I think he only smiles when I feed him crickets. Either way, he’s the only thing that can even make me laugh just from his real little bug-eating self.
So innocent as an animal ignorant to the world around him.
I walk towards the bakery where I set up the tables and lounges for the customers to sit down in comfort.
I work at a small bakery in San Francisco.
I don’t know why a bakery, but I like the smell of flowers and chocolate. It brings a sense of comfort and familiarity.
I then put on my apron waiting for a new customer to arrive. Only a few entries to order a cup of coffee. The storm makes its way soaking the crowd.
Some have left trails of wet steps behind them, leaving puddles so I would gladly clean up after them.
“Issa?” I turn from my spot as I brew a cup of coffee for the woman at the first cash register. My boss is a kind old woman who hired me knowing about my condition. She doesn’t force me to smile or be friendly to the customers as I have a hard time holding a conversation no longer than a minute which is taking people’s orders
“Yes, Mrs. Dooley?” I reply.
“Did you have a nice weekend?”
“Yes, it was quite lovely, my mother and I went to a museum of modern art.”
I don’t like to go out as I’ve mentioned, but when I do, it has to be somewhere quiet and low lighting with very little or to none people.
Museums are the best places to go to.
“How wonderful, I’m glad you had a nice time dear. How is your mother by the way? I hope her trip to Mexico wasn’t too hectic?” She asks.
“Fortunately, it was not,” my mouth hurts from speaking so much.
“I’m glad to hear. Don’t overwork too hard Issa. I’ll be back; I have a few errands to run. You’re in charge while I’m away,” she walks away from the bakery into the storm heading inside her small bug. I was left with only two employees for the day, another one that is missing was rather late per usual.
“Hey Issa, Jade and I are going on break, you think you’ll be fine?” Ashley asked as I was giving a customer their pastry as they left a tip behind.
“I’ll be fine,” I answered, my voice monotone.
“Cool, we won’t take long.” The two leave to who knows where and I’m left enclosed with silence.
No customers or employees to bother.
It was my time of peace.
I close the blinds and flip the Open sign to Closed. I tie my hair up with my blue ribbon, take my apron off, push my glasses back to the ridge of my nose, then I grab a broom turning on the music.
I dusted, washed, mopped, and cleaned as quickly and efficiently as possible while the two were gone. They usually take an hour or two to arrive back. I don’t mind: I don’t encourage it, yet I don’t stop the two girls either.
As I almost finish cleaning the shop, the door is banged heavily by the sounds of pounded fists. My heart rate speeds and my hand slips dropping the broom.
I slowly walk to the door, peeking through the window of who it is. It was the other employee who was soaked and irritated.
“Why are you late Jessica?” I ask.
“None of your business, why is the store closed.” She gives me an accusing tone of which I don’t take too kindly. However, I continue to stare at her, observing her next moves.
“You’re late again Jessica; I don’t like it.” I was never fond of her presence. It made me feel uneasy at times.
“Well lucky for me, I don’t do things to please you, Issa. Leave me alone, and get back to work,” I roll my eyes putting my apron back on.
“I’m in charge here until Mrs. Dooley comes back.”
“Oh yea, is there anyone here to know that?” She asks coley; she glares at me as I stand there, unmoving. My skin begins to feel hot as Jessica’s intense stare scrutinizes me. I’m the first to look away, prolonged eye contact is unsettling at times.
“Yes, the other employees...”
“They’re out, and I doubt they’ll care if you were put in charge anyway. When I’m here, you already know who has the last say.” She says this as if it’ll change their minds.
I still remember what happened the last time Jessica was in charge vividly, her idiot tendencies had put mine and other lives at risk for her stupidity.
“I don’t think your grandmother would like that,” I answer, and it’s because of her grandmother that she even has a job.
“Let me deal with her Issa, get back to work and flip the sign Open,” I’m only doing it because I was going to do it anyway, not because she said so.
Customers began to enter once again asking for coffee or a pastry. Others join for the free wifi or to study for classes. There was also a hippie that came in asking where Mary is while rambling on about how his eyes had seen big dogs that he’s ever witnessed. Something about giant wild animals roaming the national parks here in San Francisco.
“I swear to you, I ain’t ever seen anything like it.”
“I believe you.”
“Oh child, thank the lord someone listened! Stay away from the woods ya hear me!” He seemed nervous and unhinged, so I calmly explained to the poor man that there’s no such thing as giant wild beasts and he had nothing to fear. As for Mary, I told him he couldn’t find any here unless he goes to a dispensary. He was kind enough to leave me his molly. I threw it down the toilet as soon as the old man disappeared.
Soon afterward, the other employees arrived from their lunch break who were full-on cackling.
“Oh hey Jessica, when did you get here?” Jade asks.
“About an hour ago, by the way, you two are way over past your guys’ break time,” the two had their eyes widen in surprise. They both stared at me for assistance, but I couldn’t say anything because it wasn’t necessarily a lie. I don’t tell the girls what to do, but I don’t stop them either which is partly my fault.
As I see it, they’re two adult women who made their decision. I don’t need to interfere with their choices. Maybe that’s why I haven’t received a higher position yet?
I lack the desire to be an authority.
“Oh c’mon Jess, give us a break. We lost track of time,” Ashley responds.
“Put on the apron and start helping out,” Jessica is a person who you’d have no intention of getting to know for the troublesome she brings, yet I admire her for the endurance to take action even when she looks horrible from the day before of her previous activities. I sometimes smell the foul after-effects of alcohol under her breath. She’s a party girl as her grandmother has mentioned before. I, on the other hand, have never been a party person, or a social person.
I lack the desire for human contact in general.
The day has ended with the night emerging.
My shift at the bakeshop was over.
My boss, Mrs. Dooley had arrived acknowledging that we worked quite a hectic day, giving us time to clean up, wash away the mess, hang our aprons and walk out into the night returning home.
“Have a nice night Issa, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“You have a nice night as well Mrs. Dooley,” I walk away slowly from the bakery heading for the bus stop. Not stopping at all even as I hear Mrs. Dooley speak once again.
“Alpha, what a pleasant surprise.” From the hearing distance, I can tell Mrs. Dooley was greeting several people from her shop. The old woman greets someone named Alpha. I never heard someone of that particular name before.
I might have to research what it could mean other than a leader. Unfortunately, by then I’m gone from an earshot not knowing who her mysterious guests are. They seemed important enough to keep the bakery going. I didn’t stop from returning to help Mrs. Dooley with late-night customers.
She would be fine on her own.
I sat on the bus with my earphones in a while my eyes closed from the exhaustion I felt from working overtime.
It was a hectic day since the storm brought in drenched customers looking to get warm with a hot brew. The rain continues to wet the earth; the news had informed us the storm would last for a few days. Some of the crowd upon hearing this was bummed out. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic.
There were only a few other riders on the bus; it wasn’t filled at night when riding.
It was lonely almost.
Our driver, Max, makes excellent precautions to drive smoothly since he’s aware of my condition. He’s a kind old man who’s almost 55, 56 if next week comes to celebrate his birthday.
“How you doin’ this rainy night Issa?”
“I’m great Max.”
I feel like a broken record already.
“That’s great hun.” I grimace to the side of his rearview mirror.
“I have a pastry that I baked from the bakery; I think your wife will love it. It’s a sugar cookie with dried cherries. I experimented in the kitchen today,” right where my stops come; I stood from my seat walking over to give the pastry to my bus driver.
“Aw, very kind of you Issa. I’m sure my wife and I will love it. Your baking skills have improved,” he mentions with a smile only a few times I rarely see it that I have appreciated over time. I think Max and Mrs. Dooley are the only ones who I don’t mind having around nor do I mind the small embraces.
Max brings me in for a tight hug which I accept readily.
“Have a nice night Max.”
I enter into my home slipping my shoes off and dropping my bag near the table stand where my mail and other mess reside.
I can hear my mother in the kitchen with loud music blasting throughout the halls.
I don’t mind the sound as it drowns out my presence. Although, it’s pointless at times because my mother knows when I arrive anyway even with the music on.
“Hola mi’ja,” my mother greets me in Spanish.
“Hola mamá.” I greet her back.
“How was work?” She asks as I sit at the table opening mail.
“It was okay; the rain was very harsh today, therefore, it was very busy,” I mention.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I made tacos with red rice and two eggs just the way you like it. There’s also green salsa if you want any, I made sure your food is not touching.”
“You didn’t have to cook. I know you’re still tired from traveling so far.” I don’t like it when she exerts herself for me.
“Don’t start; you’re my baby. Of course, I’m going to feed you.” She pats me on the head then leaves a quick kiss on the left side of my temple.
I freeze every time she does that. She knows I don’t like it. It’s pointless to remind her because I know she’ll continue to do it. So I let her proceed even if I don’t enjoy it.
“Did you rest well?” I ask as I dig into my food, I was starving.
I forgot my lunch bag, and I didn’t have cash on me. My boss had offered to pay for lunch when my break came, but I declined her offer respectfully. I do not like taking the pastry from Mrs. Dooley’s shop even if she does offer it to me. If I were the one who made it, I’d take it. If her hands made it, I won’t.
“Well, I called your dad from Mexico, and pretty soon he’ll be coming back. He’s just fixing up the house for your grandmother. Then they’ll both come when we send them enough money.” My father is away from the states staying in Guadalajara where our family ranch resides. One of the rooms had collapsed, and my parents left for an emergency. They took my grandmother as well to see her friends and family again.
I stayed behind to take care of the house and pay the bills here while they were away.
My mother came home early out of a worried intuition that I was alone and scared to be by myself.
It’s her excuse for saying she misses me.
However, I don’t miss her, ever.
“How’s the food?” She asks “It tastes great; the rice is excellent today mother.” She flinches from the use of the word “mother” as it is too formal. But it’s my way of endearment for her since I never hug or kiss her.
“Did you feed smiley?” I asked.
“I did, he’s fed.” I nod my head then stand up to wash my plate.
“Did you open the letter from the school you wanted to go to?” She asks with hopeful eyes, a smile so wide wishing her child will be accepted.
“I didn’t make it.” I walk away climbing the stairs; I grab my latter to the attic door to my room. There are two bedrooms and an attic, my parents and grandmother live here with me. So I took the attic, so they were able to have enough space.
I also took it because they rarely never go up into my sanctuary of solitude unless to feed Smiley.
I enter inside the dimly lit room, my bed on the far left corner where I have my nightstand with a lampshade, a water bottle, and an old sugar skull I bought from a flea market.
My writing desk on the far right where my art supplies reside next to my giant easel. On another desk is where my little lizard, Smiley, stays in his big tank. I turn the warm light on since he’s been under the cooling sun for a while now.
I notice his skin has stopped shedding on his foot.
I go to the restroom to bring back a cup of warm water and soap with several cue tips.
“Come here, boy,” he immediately walks into my palms burrowing his face between my thumb and index finger.
“Ooh, someone missed me huh?”
I grab the cue tip and dip it in the lukewarm water with soap to wipe away Smiley’s excess skin. He starts to make this rasp like purring sound as he rubs his head on my thumb.
“Oh, you like that boy don’t you.”
My mother always said I gave more affection to the lizard than I do to my family.
“I’m almost done. We don’t want you to lose your little toes now do we? Mm, and you had a heavy lunch huh? Ooh, you like it when you rub your head on my thumb.”
Moments like these are the only time I allow affection to take over. This animal has never spoken a single mean word to me, has never shown greed, selfishness, or any other human trait that are cons. This little lizard is the only thing that allows me to give affection without receiving anything in return.
I love it.
“Okay, you’re all cleaned.”
I put Smiley back in his tank where he greedily takes several licks of water.
After showering and preparing for bed, I do a little light reading before falling asleep.
My glasses droop from my nose, falling towards the tip as I engross myself in the book. Several minutes pass by where my world turns to darkness enclosed by the sweet sound of tittering raindrops hitting my window.
My bedroom silent except for the peaceful rain.
A loud, thunderous storm hits my windowpane where I jolt awake from slumber. My eyes roam around the attic, my body slick with sweat, and my head is pounding from an enormous headache.
The hairs on my neck rise from the eerie and unnerving feeling of another presence.
I don’t feel alone.
I drop my book onto the floor, my glasses fall to my lap, and my lights go out. The storm had begun to rain uncontrollably to the point where it seemed something wanted to come in.
My window is open as I turn from the left.
Something had come in.
I scurry to the window closing it shut quickly, the level of anxiety creeps over. I grab my bat just in case, who knows what had tried to enter my room.
A bang was heard near my desk.
I try to squint through the darkness, but I couldn’t see much. I put my glasses on for a better view, but my world was still dark.
I walk over to pick up my colored pencil cup.
I don’t recall ever dropping it.
I continue to walk around the attic; a reasonable person would have screamed or cried for help in this particular situation. Except for me, I’m not normal. I check on my lizard Smiley; he was hiding underneath his rocks for safety.
“Oh don’t worry boy, I got you.” I open his tank slipping my hand inside, automatically he climbs into my hand burrowing his head between my thumb and index finger as always.
I fix up the room as much as I could, it was a slight mess, and it didn’t help that leaves were left on a trail.
It took my head a while to realize the trail had to be made by another person.My windows pop open from the dominant force of the storm’s wind.
Or so I’d like to think.
The windows bang back and forth indicating whatever was in my bedroom was gone for now.