January 6, 2106: A Greyhound Christmas

~by Louis Templeman



Christmas short story contest Winner, 2011 Florida Times Union

The strange, sweet smell of the Greyhound Bus’ diesel exhaust wrapped him in a veil of mystery. He stood alone. He was near his mother but felt alone. He gawked at mothers with fussy children and off-balanced bundles. Loud speaker notices pinged off of the metal sides of the buses and sleep deprived voices wafted down the concrete and steel corridor of the loading bay. His mother touched him. Nerves rattled down his shoulder and spine jerking him from his reverie.

“Move away from there. A bus is pulling in.”

He wondered if Santa could find him in a bus station or on a bus. It was still dark, early morning and they’d been traveling since last night. He did not ask his mother this question. She scolded him last time he bothered her with “that inane nonsense.”

His best friend was also nine. He believed. However, not Lakeisha. She was way too old, she said. Besides she was kind of grown up for her age. Only ten and already she wore a bra. She said only babies, “and I mean stupid babies believe in Santa Clause.” She said all kind of rude things so he quit talking to her, just like he was not talking to his mother right now.

If Santa could find all the kids in all their houses surely he could find him on a moving bus. He did not, however, know where he and his mother were going. He thought about his mother’s black eye but knew better than mention it. That was something else he would not talk about.

The door to the bus opened. The driver stepped down with a smile, and said, “Merry Christmas!”

His mother muttered the same back to him.

We’ll load in twenty minutes. You can board but have your tickets ready when I come back. With that he fished out a cigarette and walked to where he could smoke it.

The child drew strength from the driver’s greeting and said softly, without looking up, “Merry Christmas, Mama.”

She shuffled a bit with her back pack, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Some Christmas.” A short silence from her was sucked up into the gulf of bus station sounds and then, “You’ll remember this as your worse.”

Without thinking he responded, a response too pure to be touched by the embarrassment he’d have known had he thought before he spoke. “Not if I see Santa.”

“Please!”

Thirty minutes after the bus left the station at Forsythe Street they were rumbling down Route 90 towards Macclenny. In the seat in front of him was a pocket, normally used for the Times Union or some magazine. He saw there a corner of a book. He reached for it. An Iron Man comic book. He held it cautiously in the tender welcome of his good luck. “Mama. My favorite. Look. Can I keep it?”

“Someone left it. So it’s yours.”

He stared at the cover. He turned it over. He looked at the edges and the cover again. Like new. Whoever brought it probably had not read it yet. Like new. Just like a present. He looked out the window. The red sky proclaimed the arrival of the new day. “It’s Christmas morning, Mama. And, I have a present.”

“I guess,” she offered. She opened her eyes and looked over at him. She almost smiled. She winced in pain at the effort. She reclined her seat.

The passenger in front of him pulled the overhead cord. It caused a distinct ring. At the very next chance the driver pulled the bus to a wide spot on the shoulder of the road. The passenger disembarked. The bus driver followed him out and opened the luggage compartment.

The boy looked over the scenery. He saw a nicely appointed brick ranch. Beyond the vacant lot next door to it was a house trailer with an old Toyota and a Ford pick-up in the sandy yard. He stared beyond it to the house covered in light tan siding. His mouth dropped open as he saw a man in a distinctive fat, red elf suit step out.

A woman in jeans and sleeveless tank top followed him holding a red Santa hat with white fuzzy ball decorating the pointed end. The boy saw them talking.

“You realize how hot this is?” Santa grumbled, “Man, this is Florida.”

“And, Florida is full of kids,” she laughed. He took the hat from her and slapped his leg with it. “Put it on. You look cute.”

“Not till I get to Grandma’s.”

“No. Put it on and wave at the bus. Pretend it’s full of kids. You need the practice. You act like a grumpy old man.”

He obeyed. Put on the hat and waved at the bus that was accelerating past.

The boy’s eyes were riveted at the sight. His jaw fell slack with amazement. He barely stammered out, “Mama!”

“Oh, my. I see it.”

He waved at the figure he was passing.

“Mama . . .” He wanted a hug.

She squeezed his left forearm. That would do for now. “I see it, honey.”

He stared backwards out the window until Santa disappeared in the blur of telephone poles and trees. “It’s not the worse, Mama.”

She squeezed one last time and let go his arm. She leaned back on her seat hoping to be jostled to sleep. She said, “You’ll remember this one, for sure.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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