“A penny for your thoughts, sir.”
“They’re not worth that much.”
I sat on the bench outside of the bus terminal. A tall, scrawny kid sat down next to me. His blonde hair tousled, his thin face pockmarked by a wild spray of freckles. I frowned.
“Where are you headed, sir?”
“Anywhere but here.”
My answer seemed to fly over his head. He nodded and kept quiet for a bit. I opened my book, it was some science fiction novel written by Ray Bradbury.
“I’m headed to Kansas.”
“It never fails,” I muttered. I closed my book and forced a smile. It was obvious I would not get a chance to read it as long as this kid sat beside me.
“Have you family in Kansas?”
“No sir. I am an orphan.”
“Then, why go?”
“I am getting married to the prettiest girl in the whole state.” His eyes brimmed with tears, his smile stretched his face to it’s maximum capacity.
“Thank you, sir. Are you married?”
“I was married once but no longer.”
“Oh. Did she die?”
I stared at the kid. My frown deepened. “Jesus. What is it with this kid?” His question seemed earnest.
“Why would you think she died? We got divorced.”
“Oh. I just thought..never mind.”
I could tell he had more questions. God knew I didn’t want to have this conversation. Still, it would be sometime before the bus came through.
“Do you have a name kid?”
“Yes, sir. I am Gavin Lansbury.”
“Nice to meet you, Gavin. You can call me Freeman.”
“I am going to tell you a story, Gavin. Once I am done, I won’t take any questions, understood?”
“Once upon a time, I was married to a beautiful woman. She was from the Philippines. Everything was great until it wasn’t. After I fathered two children, I joined the service. I went off to war, and things changed. I changed. We grew distant, and decided life would be better without the other. The end.”
“Why didn’t you get remarried?”
“You misunderstood the bit about no questions?”
“Fine. I dated around a few times, and found someone I fell madly head over heels in love with. Then, our love disappeared like a vapor. There’s nothing worse than falling in love with someone, only to be tossed into the gutter with any feelings they once felt for you. It’s the story of my life. So, allow me to clarify. Love has never been kind to me. It’s my life-long enemy-if I had a chance, I would’ve destroyed it upon my divorce.”
Gavin had no idea what to say. He stared at me, then the ground, and continued to look away.
“I’m sincere when I offered you my congraulations. You have found love, when I’ve turned my back on it. Perhaps, it may work out. If it doesn’t, you could always get divorced.”
Gavin’s bluish-grey eyes darkened as he stared at me. He gnawed on his bottom lip, his eyes narrowed at my bit of sarcasm.
“I’m not you. I would never give up on my marriage.”
“The audacity of this kid!”
“First off, you have no idea what you’re speaking about. I never gave up on my marriage, it took a decade for me to come to peace with what happened. Then, I tried again, and again, and again. It’s not my fault there are so many hurt people in the world, or that these people would rather spend the rest of their natural lives smothered in work or some other thing. It’s love’s fault.”
We sat in silence until the buses came in. The bus headed to Kansas was parked right next to the bus to nowhere special.
“Now boarding passengers for Elk City, Oklahoma.” I grabbed my bags and slung them over my shoulder. I extended my hand to Gavin.
“Safe journeys young man. Best wishes to you and your bride.”
“Thank you, sir. Be well…”
I boarded my bus and headed out into the unknown. Dusk had settled over the bus terminal. I leaned back against my seat and opened my book. “It was a pleasure to burn,” I began.
I placed my book down. “Burn,” I chuckled bitterly. “Two things can burn you, heat and acid. You can either burn with passion, with love, and with joyous rapture, or you can burn with hatred and bitterness. There’ s no cure for either of them.”
We drove long into the night before we ever stopped again. I had dozed off, my book was still open. I closed it. The driver pulled us into an all-night truck stop. She pushed the door open.
“Alright, we have thirty minutes here. You can use the latrine or buy something for the road. There’s no alcohol or drugs allowed on the bus. See you in thirty.”
People shoved each other off the bus. I stood to my feet and stretched once everyone had got off. My mind wandered to Gavin. He was mad in love no doubt about it. I smiled. “Whoever his bride is, she could do a lot worse.” He had brimmed with the part of my life that had been missing for so long. It was pathetic.
I had wasted years since my divorce searching for someone who would want to share their life with me, someone who wanted to build together. Failure upon abysmal failure had worn down my resilience. One night, not too long ago, I went into an empty church and sat on the back row.
“God, I know the Scripture in Genesis reads that it’s not good for man to be alone. But, I think I’m meant to be. I would like to be delivered from this repulsive desire for companionship. If you don’t do it, I understand. However, I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life a bitter old man.”
It was far too late for that. Bitterness had seeped into my heart. The acidic touch of wretchedness tainted every endeavor, aspiration, and dream I had. I sat on that bus to anywhere but here, and I prayed a silent prayer.
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. Forgive my rage, my bitterness, and my hateful nature. Help me in my weakness.”
A mass of people started for the bus, and my fellow passengers began to board. We had picked up new people. Down the aisle came a cute blond passenger. She sat in the seat next to me. I forced a smile and picked up my book.
“Hi,” she beamed, “whatcha reading?”
“Hi. A novel by Ray Bradbury.”
“I have never read him.” I forced a smile and opened the book.
“I am Maya, and I am headed to Kansas.”
“Where are you headed, Freeman?”
I placed my book down. How could I be so unfortunate to have met and sat beside two chatty ninnies headed to the same place?
“Anywhere but here.”
“That’s nice.” I forced a smile and nodded.
“I am going to get married to the most handsome man in Kansas.”
“Oh dear, Lord…”
“That’s great, Maya. Good luck to you and your groom.”
“Thank you, Freeman. Are you married?”
I stared out the window and watched as the sun rose from its bed. I decided I better find a destination, sooner rather than later, it mattered not where I ended up.
“Yep. I’m married.”
“Good for you,” she said. Her full lips smiled a brilliant smile, and then she giggled. “Is there anything better than burning with passion and desire?”
“I guess you will find out.”
As we rode into the glow of the sunrise, I considered my plight. Perhaps these wild-eyed kids had the right idea. It’s great to burn with passion for something, rather than to be plagued by the thoughts of a horrendous past.
Bradbury was correct. “It’s a pleasure to burn.”