Saturday, September 29, 2007

spring break

i looked out the window of the greyhound bus and wished it all away. that whole first year of junior high, the crappiest year yet, but now i had a week to forget about it all, this first spring break ever, starting with the overnight bus ride to see my grandparents in amarillo.

earlier that day i'd worked up the courage to go into the school library and check out a book. i'd been wanting to all year, standing in the hallway, peering through the glassed in front wall at the books. today, heart beating in my chest i went in and found it, the hardback, tom sawyer by mark twain.

finally, on the bus: some good reading in a lounge seat, the overhead light casting a glow all around. nine year old bubba was right next to me, holding the box of donuts mom and dad had left with us as we pulled out from the bus station that evening.

now here we were, halfway through oklahoma,the full moon skimming low over the horizon. bubba yanked on my arm, "i really need ta go to the bathroom."

"it's back there."

"but i'm scared..."

"what are you talkin' about?"

bubba tried to look back down the dark aisle but couldn't. "there ain't nothin' to be afraid of," i glanced back, catching the silhouette of a huge indian in jeans and a ripped-up t-shirt coming down the aisle, long hair flowing, dark eyes burning a hole right through me.

turning back quickly i said, "maybe you can wait 'til we stop."

just then someone leaned out from the row behind us, into the light. "say, my name's johnny and this here's my little sister. she's real cute, you like her?" the boy looked kinda like the ninth graders i tried to stay away from at school.

the bus pulled into a parking lot next to this filling station, to drop off some passengers. johnny glanced over at the pumps and then back towards me and bubba. "hey, you know what my favorite hobby is?" he paused... "pumping gas," he said and nodded knowingly towards us. i took in the cigarette over his ear, as bubba leaned in a little closer to me.

"come on, let's check out what's inside." he led us off the bus and into the little station. bugs flickered around the florescent lights as we sauntered over to the pinball machine tucked in the corner.

"hey, watch this," johnny said as he walked toward the man at the counter.

"say, i lost my money in the pinball machine," he said, gesturing toward the three of us leaning against the machine. the man in the blue uniform stared back at him for a few seconds and then slowly reached into the money drawer, pulling out a dime and flicking it toward him.

johnny held the coin up and snickered as he came toward us. "let me show you how it's done," he popped the money into the machine and it came to life. "ka-ching," the metal ball spun into the field of play.

"all aboard, we're headin' out," the bus driver yelled in through the door.

i grabbed my brother's hand and took off, leaving johnny and his sister there at the pinball machine. on the bus now, moving away, i caught one last glimpse of him there, working the flippers and pushing the machine up to the edge, just before "tilt". his sister caught my eye for a moment and then we were gone.

the bus lurched out onto the highway and i glanced back, into the sun rising up over the station, and then ahead toward the still dark west and the road ahead. grabbing the box of donuts from my brother i pulled it open. "say bubba, you want the cherry or the maple?"