We rode the bus all night long. Outside it was wet, the irritating summer drip. The bus felt safe and dry. Remy, my second cousin, drove it around the block and then went around the town in circles. Benches, lamp posts, schools and drug stores, occasional open fields nestled with puddles. We passed by the graveyard where his mother was buried. He slowed down but didn’t stop. At the bus stop, some people screamed and ran after the bus. I rested my cheek against the window and laughed. It made me feel important and in control.
Remy was driving the bus for the first time. He let out a long sigh every time he turned and went over the curb. “Great timing, there’s nobody on the road.” His arm, tattooed all the way down, his head angled as if listening to someone whispering a secret into his ear. He came back from Afghanistan not too long ago and smelled like a turned vegetable. He told me he’d smelled worse. I could tell he was better with cars.
Around midnight, the rain stopped and the tar roads shone as if paved with diamonds. I thought about my mother; saw her face in the dark panes of empty buildings, her shadowed eyes fixated at me. I always thought she was depressed, the undecided colors in her eyes. And yet the only one who could see right through me.
Out the window, a cloud veiled a gibbous moon.
“How’re you doing, babe?” Remy hollered and honked. “Fine,” I hollered back. “I still see sand everywhere, the meds drive me nuts,” he said. Then he raised his right hand and shook his fist at the night.
When I was twelve, my mother and I used to walk to Hare Rama Hare Krishna temple in the downtown, lunch was free on Sundays. I watched the bone-thin priests and eager devotees rushing through the corridors. There were the indigo-colored paintings of Krishna playing with his mother, Yashoda, whose face didn’t look anything like my mother’s face. But I hoped someday it might. The food tasted delicious after hours of walking. I felt sleepy on our way back and my breath smelled of potato curry and garam masala.
Caution, the yellow sign read as the bus rode up the hill. Even though I knew every bit of town, I wondered where Remy was going. Where he had been and why I was here with him at this hour. After a few years, I’d figure it out, I said to myself.
The trees on both sides of the road looked like ghosts, waltzing in the pregnant air. I pulled out cigarettes and walked towards Remy. The pale shrubs quivered as the bus drove past them and the headlights made small moons ahead. I could see Remy’s face, flickered orange through the curling smoke, his left hand firm on the steering wheel and his steady, purposeless gaze. I wanted to know what he was running from.
Outside, a thin streak of light sliced the chest of darkness. For a moment, I didn’t know who I was, or where I was. When it came back to me, I imagined my mother sitting at the kitchen table. She was waiting for me. Her face was sagged around the edges with the weight of our failure in finding love. And I thought of Remy’s tongue in my mouth, a whiff of his stinking sweat in a way I’d find both repulsive and attractive.
Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas and is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has been published in Wigleaf, Moon City Review, Lunch Ticket, Storm Cellar and other journals. She reads prose for The Common.