UNDATED, UNADDRESSED LETTER FOUND AT
GREYHOUND BUS STATION
100 W MCBEE AVE
TELEPHONE MAIN: (864) 235-4741
BAGGAGE: (864) 235-4060
GREYHOUND PACKAGE EXPRESS: (864) 235-4060
I really fucking wish I were you right now. You’re just opening your eyes as the sun flickers through the curtains in your bedroom, aren’t you? Mum’s risen early to make you a huge breakfast; you’re beginning to feel safe in familiar surroundings. Last night, you ate a large dinner with your family and then discussed some of your experiences out in the field over a good few beers with dad. Ice-cold beers. Tonight you’re probably going to meet with friends in your town, spend some time with a girl you haven’t seen in months – or years – get laid, and generally have a good time.
Do you want to trade places? You wouldn’t believe how envious I was of you when you returned to Atlanta and embraced your parents, right here in this bus station. Of course, you completely deserve it. Where did you serve? Afghanistan? Helmand? I had a couple of friends out there. I see them when they come home on leave, maybe once a year. Sad how some of them get into fights … [illegible handwriting] … they never used to be like that, before they signed up. I imagine it’s pretty difficult to deal with, working hard to adapt to a life of such discipline and order, only to discover that the streets at home inhabit so much of the opposite when you return. Beefed-up Neanderthal jocks taking advantage of girls dancing to bullshit chart tunes on tables of booze, is what you’re fighting for out there. You’ve given your own sweat and blood and seen men you knew die for this. It’s an insult.
Your shoes had been shined very well, I recall. You wore a sand-coloured military shirt and grey trousers, and carried a bag that looked heavy. The bag had wire hangers poking from it, and lay on the tiled floor as you held your sobbing mum. Your thick-framed spectacles matched your dad’s. You looked alike, but he had slightly longer hair. Still a crew cut. He wore a t-shirt bearing a photo of you in your full military gear, standing next to the stars and stripes. He looked oddly solemn, but I don’t doubt for a second he was thrilled to have you home – he just didn’t seem to know quite what to say, or how to feel. Then you started laughing into your mobile phone. I tried to eavesdrop over the CNN bulletin on the TV screen, before realising you were speaking Spanish. Your parents waited for you to finish the call, all the while looking at you and not talking to each other, then your dad took the bag and you all walked into the parking area outside.
I sat a few benches away while this was happened, but, unlike you, I won’t be going home for a long time. I was supposed to have spent last night in Charlotte, but things went wrong. I was supposed to have my bus pass ‘redeemed’, or something, and then get my connection to Charlotte – but it didn’t quite work out that way. For a couple of hours I stood at the ticket desk, trying to reason with an angry man who wore the expression of someone who’ll probably one day develop fairly severe blood pressure problems. He was supposed to ‘redeem’ the sheet of paper I had into a bus pass, which would enable me to travel on any Greyhound bus service around the US for the next 60 days. I don’t think you had the displeasure of encountering him, but, trust me, he was useless. Angry and useless. He didn’t understand what ‘redeeming’ something meant, and never really tried to, so I missed my bus from Atlanta to Charlotte.
I tried calling Greyhound, but some girl at the other end could only repeat the very same sentiments printed on the sheet of paper I had, which the ticket desk guy couldn’t understand. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” he told me, chewing gum like an arrogant cliché. “Especially not concerning anyone that’s from Ukrainia.” I’m not from Ukrainia, nor does any such place exist. He told me to wait while he called up the numbers printed on the sheet. That came to nothing. He claimed he was being kept on hold and obviously had to serve other customers in the meantime. When they did get through to someone, I overheard him say I was from Canada. He really didn’t give a shit.
I tried to call my travel agency’s US branch from a pay phone, but this also came to nothing. I even tried to call its offices back home. Nothing. I met this girl who started saying things like: “don’t panic, you’ll get there when you’re meant to” – as if it was supposed to help. The security guard was trying to cheer me up, I think, telling me stories of tramps coming in begging for $1 to get to the hospital – one guy apparently doing this while carrying his right eyeball and most of its socket.
About five minutes ago I gave up and bought a regular ticket for another bus service. $87 from Atlanta to Charlotte. Not bad, really, only it doesn’t leave until 11pm and won’t arrive until 2pm tomorrow.
I have about three text messages to let my girlfriend know what’s happening, which will hardly reassure her. I miss her so much – everything seems infinitely blissful and simple in her arms. If I were thinking straight, I’d write her a poem.
I often remember
holding your hand
skipping in rain
dancing on sand.
Never such innocence
before nor since
that spread, like … [following line crossed out]
This bus station’s pretty uncomfortable for me. People stare at me with suspicion. I’m not really doing myself any favours – I’m an odd-looking guy with an accent, dressed in linen and moccasins in a station that’s quickly taught me that only the poorest Americans ride the bus. Plus the only other white people in this place are on the TV screen, reading the news. But I don’t feel as scared as I perhaps should. Perhaps looking pissed off makes people stay away from me.
--- --- ---
For ten hours I sat next to a large man who must have gotten through at least half a dozen bags of crisps. The crunchiest crisps you can imagine, as the lights of northern Florida and Georgia rolled past the window. In between the lights was the dark, which allowed me the pleasure of knowing I was in motion without being able to tell how little things were changing outside. I sat upright and clung to my bag, trying to get some sleep. We stopped at a couple of lonely gas stations in between Savannah and Macon, just in case we wanted to get our hands on one of those tasteless sandwiches from a fridge that probably contains traces of the urine of hundreds of truckers. I elected to stay put and take the opportunity to get comfortable. A couple of people had left the bus and I could almost slouch across two seats and close my eyes. But then the driver’s voice boomed over the crackly PA: “Welcome to Greyhound. No loud talking, no cellphones, no music, no cursing.”
I wanted to sleep for the whole journey, to avoid feeling more miserable than I did when conscious, but sleep wouldn’t visit me – I was way too stressed and distracted to get any shut-eye – and the longer I stayed awake, the hungrier I became. I began to evaluate the concept of waiting … [illegible handwriting] … I mean, how much of a person’s life is spent waiting?
And why do I always happen to be sitting next to an emergency exit? At home and here … [illegible handwriting] … symbolic? A journey between one stage of your life and the next, but always the option to change your mind?
--- --- ---
Perhaps there were a few copies of Great American Novels floating about within your quarters/barracks/whatever out in the field. Have you ever read On the Road? I’d suggest you do so, though I fear its appeal has become somewhat over-saturated here on its home soil. This is summed up almost perfectly in the form of an arcade machine back in Jacksonville, where I boarded, called Road Trip. It involves the player attempting to navigate their way from New York to Los Angeles, via Chicago and Denver, picking up different cash prizes, the value of which corresponding to the distance travelled.
I’m now somewhere in Greenville, SC. Fortunately a nice lady has sorted me out with some tickets and a temporary bus pass. I’m taking some comfort in the fortune of still being about use the rest of my travel funds to buy a one-way flight back home. However, I figure that after this journey, which will total 24 hours by the time I’ve arrived in Charlotte, I’ll be ready for anything Greyhound throws at me next. Surely it can’t get any worse than this.
I’m pressing ahead with my trip for now, in spite of all these obstacles that I bet sound irritatingly mundane to you. Are you rolling your eyes at this? Someone like me moaning to someone like you about late buses. Pathetic. But I just really wanted to share this with you. I miss home.
Anyway, man, my bus north leaves in a little while. I sincerely apologise for the rant, I really do. I’m fully aware that neither myself nor the experiences I’ve described mean anything to you. I just want you to know that I cannot remember longing to step into someone else’s shoes quite as much as I did yours, many, many hours ago, and I’m not sure you would expect that, given all the horrors you may have seen and memories you wouldn’t wish upon anyone. I hope these don’t continue haunt you, if they ever did, and that you really enjoy your time at home.
All the best,
--- --- ---
There’s no bus. The nice lady’s gone home and the sun’s going in again. Not sure how long I should sit here waiting for. It feels cloudy behind my eyes. Sleep deprivation driving me mad … [illegible handwriting] … and I can’t face another minute in this station. A man who’s offered me a place to stay said he’ll be back shortly to collect me if this bus doesn’t turn up. He looks strange but so does everybody.
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