You’re riding a bus. It’s late at night and the flickering of the fluorescent lights above you is starting to mess with your head.
You remember thinking that you should’ve turned back for your headphones as you were running out of the door earlier, but you thought you mightn’t have enough time to catch the bus if you turned back now. And so you didn’t.
But you regret that now, because all you can hear is the wheels of the bus rolling down the asphalted slope of the hill, and the occasional loose pebble being flung by the wheels up onto the side of the bus with a “ping!” It’s almost like each pebble is perfectly timed with your inhaling breaths. Exhale…2…3…4…5…inh-ping!…exhale…inhale…ping! Hyperventilating now, ping–exhale–ping–exhale–ping–exhale. It’s uncanny.
You’re still riding the bus. And now you’re slowly falling asleep. The only thing keeping you awake is the fear of missing your stop. Your stop. Your stop. Where are you going? Where are you coming from? What are you chasing? What are you running from?
You don’t recognize anyone on this bus. You thought you’d gotten on with friends. But you’re alone here. Where have they gone? You miss them a lot, but for some reason you can’t remember any of their names. Or exactly what their faces look like. Or how their voices sound. You miss them. You reach into your pocket and take out a blank piece of paper. You decide you’ll try to draw them. But you have no pencil.
The bus is slowing down, you think. You just got off the highway. Or are you about to get on it? No, it’s not slowing down, you’re just so tired. You try to occupy yourself with thoughts of what it is you have to do when you get off of the bus. Surprise, surprise–you can’t quite remember. You know you’ve got so much to do, but you lost your to-do list. You look down to check if it’s in your bag and you realize you’ve left your bag. Great. The blank piece of paper in your pocket isn’t helping either. No pen.
Your heart starts to race and you start to wonder when exactly it is you’re supposed to get off. You look up to see what the next stop is but all you see are the lights. They’re blinding. You look away. You’re getting hungry. Or you’ve always been hungry. But it isn’t real hunger, is it? When last did you eat? When last weren’t you hungry? Your pockets are empty and you’ve crumpled the blank piece of paper in your hand.
You open your eyes. Oh no. You fell asleep. Did you miss your stop? No you didn’t, you would’ve felt the bus slow down. As a matter of fact, when last did the bus slow down? There is no one left. But the bus didn’t stop. Where did they all go? What time is it? When were you supposed to arrive? Will you arrive? Ping! Those pebbles. Where are you?
All these questions have made you tired. But you can’t fall back asleep or surely you’ll miss your stop. You can suddenly feel all of your clothes on your body. The piece of paper in your hands. You are aware of each swallow. Each blink. Each flicker of the lights. Each move you make. Each heartbeat. Each breath, and the faithful ping! accompanying every inhale. When last were you aware of these things? Of anything? Of yourself? Of yourself on this bus?
You’re riding a bus. You’ve been riding it for as long as you can remember. You can’t remember getting on, and you’re waiting to get off. There is no driver. There are no passengers. There is only you, the fluorescent lights, and a blank piece of paper.