NØ Return

1. One Cigarette

That was just great. The flash flood had reached the Interstate, forcing the incoming buses to turn around, so the service had been cancelled until further notice.

She felt a sudden urge to smoke.

Considering it was pouring, the bus station staff overlooked those nicotine addicts with a little survival instinct left, and allowed them to smoke at the entrance hall, indoors and safe from the wind and the rain.

She gave her luggage a concerned glance: rucksack, duffel bag, guitar. Why the hell had she kept the guitar? Only a few people remained at the bus station, but hard statistics dictated that a single person was enough to snatch all of her things away. She realized that was a third-world thought. Was she not in “The Shiny City Upon The Hill”?

Just in case there was another third-worlder around, she asked the man at the nearest ticket booth if he could look after her stuff for a while.

“I’m leaving in fifteen minutes, ma’am,” he warned.

More than enough.

She lit a cigarette as soon as she walked through the door connecting the large waiting room and the hall. The restrooms were opposite that door, and the hall stretched some ten steps to her right.

She strolled down the cold, quiet hall past the vending machines, up to the glass doors of the main access. What on earth was she doing there? How come she was stranded at that bus station in the middle of nowhere—thousands of miles away from home but only ten from the worst mistake of her life?

And just to honor her regular bad luck, that storm had hit out of the blue. So now she was forced to wait until it cleared for the buses to start running again, in order to take one heading to Fargo, the nearest international airport where she would have a chance to catch a plane back home. Back to her life, however dull and ordinary, but at least honest.

A lump crept up her throat, bringing tears along to make her eyes well. Shit. She didn’t want to think of the reasons why she’d set out on that trip. All the foolish hopes. All the empty promises. She forbid herself from following that trail of thought again. She’d already trodden it down to nausea over the last twenty hours.

It was useless, it did her no good, and she was done crying.

She smoked with her eyes out on the road coming from the Interstate, blurry in the rain.

She was back to the waiting room in time to get her things. The last ticket booths closed, the workers vanished out some hidden exit, and within minutes, only a couple with three teens and the janitor were still there.

And her, of course.

The last bus had arrived from the south a couple of hours earlier, bringing news about the river rising and the threat of a flash flood. The passengers from that bus had their cars at the parking lot, or somebody waiting to pick them up, and hadn’t lingered around.

The place looked way larger now. A cold concrete cube, like a harbor warehouse that had somehow made its way to America’s heartland. The waiting room took up most of it, with two walls made entirely of large windows opening to the now-deserted platforms. The third side of the room was the line of booths, and the fourth side was the seating area, full of cheap plastic chairs near the door to the entrance hall and the restrooms.

At the other end of the room, near the corner of the large windows, was an old set of armchairs, a couch and a coffee table.

That was the farthest she could get from the family, so she took her luggage to one of the armchairs.

But she didn’t want to just sit there, letting minutes crawl by to heap up in the necessary hours until a bus made it to the station. She couldn’t. She needed to find a way to kill time. Else, she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop her own mind from going there yet again.

Her phone’s battery was low and she’d forgotten her charger, meaning no silly games to get distracted. She loaded her pockets with her wallet, passport and cigarettes, grabbed the guitar and headed back to the hall.

Something hot to drink would be bliss.

The janitor, a lovely old man with an impossible accent, had taught her to deal with the coffee machine, so the piece of junk wouldn’t reject her coins and actually pour her a coffee.

While the thing gurgled and clunked as if some dwarves inside had interrupted their poker game to make her coffee, she faced the whining glass doors, lashed by furious gusts of wind and slanted sheets of rain, looking for the perfect spot.

There, the gap between the coffee machine and the snacks dispenser. It promised to shield her from the wind sneaking in through the doors, and offered some extra warmth from the coffee machine.

But first she needed to go to the restroom.

The dwarves were only halfway to filling the paper cup.

“Be right back,” she said to them, and crossed the hall toward the ladies’.

MC Prelooker

Edited: 17.01.2021

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