The Cantalino Bus Ride
by Judson Blake
The bright dryness of the day was cut by calls of waterfowl and sparrows over the multi-colored crowd. Cici weaved among faces, seeking a return of her glance, guided by the cunning of her desire. She regarded each face, each pair of eyes, their many directions and the sea-like swell of their passage all around her. Between the bodies she passed invisible, drawing no notice or concern.
Cici was tired of searching. She decided to wait for a bus. The Cantalino Bus Company ran up and down Yuletide Avenue, where there were many shops, parks and restaurants. At the next stop Cici met Ms. Gollifol, a friendly woman with a broad gregarious laugh.
“Do you know the way to Wayting Square?”
Ms. Gollifol thought a moment, then flicked her finger in the air. “Don’t know that place, but the driver will know. Oh, you can find it all on Yuletide. Garden tools, party dresses, electronic doodads and cheeses from the Adirondacks to the Antipodes... My, I can’t name them all. Psychedelic wines, real estate option funds, oh—”
“And apatosaurus videos,” said Kid Soffer, spreading his hand at the end of a tattooed arm. Although adult with a creased and well-tanned face, he had the air of a boy who had just learned to pronounce “apatosaurus.”
“And fishing tackle,” chimed in Wade Ames. He was a lanky angular man with a large grin that seemed to take in everyone. He affirmed that if anyone would know how to find Wayting Square it would be the bus driver: John Sockett.
“Johnny’s always on time,” said Wade, as he checked his watch and leaned to see up the road.
“Cantalino Bus has always been reliable and fair,” Ms. Gollifol affirmed. “They get you where you’re going.”
“I need some burlap for my smoker,” Wade confided, spitting out a seed shell. “Can’t do better for bees than burlap.”
Ms. Sedgell stood back and smiled at the sky. “I gotta see a lawyer about a house. My daughter. I’m happy for her but, I swear, you can’t expect much business sense from newlyweds.”
“Too busy cooking up the future,” chuckled Ms. Gollifol.
The bus came and they filed in. The inside was very modern. Cici admired the plush bucket seats, clean pillows with lace linings and even special movie screens like the ones in airplanes.
“Do you know the way to Wayting Square?” Cici asked.
“Oh, yeah,” the driver, Johnny Sockett, returned without even a glance. He moved the bus into traffic and turned red-eye focus on the driving. “We go there.” His bony arms manipulated the controls with practiced reach.
“Well, I...” Cici began but the man was so intent that she felt shy troubling him with more questions. She joined the others along the aisle of the bus.
Before long the driver switched on the videos, which showed a crime drama with ritual murders.
“That’s so good,” Ms. Sedgell pointed, leaning forward with a prompting finger. “I like the way they do that inward glance when they know something and you have to guess what it is. So intriguing.”
“It’s really good acting,” said another.
“And the scripts, my...”
All watched contentedly till the ad came, proffering “Happy Duck IQ Insurance for Professionals who really want their pet to excel. We make sure.”
Kid Soffer announced out loud that what he was after was boat parts.
“And I know just the chandler. It’s a ways, but it’s worth it to get what you really need.”
“Amen that,” said Will Click. He explained that he was after planting seeds for his yard. “What the cat dug up,” he allowed with resigned smile. He turned to Mary Toombs with a glance of acquaintance over many years.
“Oh, yes,” she granted and her curious regard came over to Cici.
“And where are you going?” Cici asked, since it appeared they all knew each other and were uncommonly open to conversation.
“Sheet music,” Mary Toombs said. “You can’t find it everywhere, and I want to work on a sonata. I heard it and I just can’t get it out of my head.” She airily pointed at her temple.
While they went on talking Cici observed that there were other people who were probably going to work or coming home, who had little interest in idle chat. She wondered about their lives, what each one could be like and if it was possible to see in their faces any of what they went through day by day. Probably yes, she decided, although she felt she could tell more from a person’s walk or gestures in conversation if she got a chance to see that.
The bus stopped and people got off. When new passengers were on and had paid their fares, the door remained open. Johnny stared out and waited, a hand on his thigh. Finally, with an air of exasperation he got up and went down the steps to help the last person on. When he reappeared, he was holding the arm of a large simian with auburn fur. Near the end of its long tail was a broad strip of red ribbon tied in an elaborate bow.
Johnny let the animal stare at the other passengers and then, as if it was only expected, the creature dropped coins in the cashbox and made a lip-folded screech at the rest of the bus. Some people chuckled and joked with one another over this cute trick.
“That’s some monkey,” said Will Click.
“Oh, no,” said Wade Ames. “That’s no monkey. That’s a chimp.”
Several others corrected Mary Toombs who declared the animal must be a baboon.
“A baboon is a very different species,” Ms. Sedgell confirmed and others agreed.
The creature stood by the cashbox and fingered the sheaf of maps. Johnny moved his knee to nudge the animal aside so he could drive.
At this point the chimp leaped up with an athletic grip on a steel bar and swung heavily into the driver’s seat. Wild laughter rippled through the car. Johnny Sockett tore at the animal’s arm, but the bus had already started to move into traffic. With wild unconcern the beast wheeled across two lanes and with a sudden jerk extracted the steering wheel from its housing. There was a screech of tires outside.
Johnny yanked the animal by the neck and, with one motion, hurled it and the steering wheel against the door. There was a loud squeal. Johnny kicked the animal several times, and the creature did what it could to kick back. Finally, with a yank of the steering wheel Johnny maneuvered the door open and, with one muscular slap, drove the animal to fall on the pavement.
The driver resumed his seat and fitted the steering wheel just as the bus was about to crowd a palm tree on the center island. All through the bus there were gasps of relief.
“Can’t let this bus be guided by a dumb monkey,” Johnny Sockett growled.
“Amen,” and “True that,” several echoed.
“I’m the one who’s responsible,” he went on, with an expert whirl at the wheel to get it back into its accustomed lane.
“I think it’s really better,” said Ms. Gollifol with a deep sigh, “if the bus isn’t guided by some creature with a long tail.”
Out the window Cici saw the furry creature high-tailing on knuckles and knees across several lanes of traffic. The bright color of the ribbon tied to its tail flapped high in the air. Astonished drivers braked to let it pass.
The bus veered off onto Denverton Street, and Cici looked around.
“Oh, that’s the usual way,” said Wade. “Don’t you worry. That’s not—”
“But that beast,” exclaimed Mary Toombs. “Didn’t that monkey,... I mean—”
“The chimp didn’t make no difference,” said Kid Soffer. “No difference no way no how.”
“Did too,” said Will Click. “Disoriented. I knew he was on the wrong track. Almost got us wrecked.”
“We’re going where we ought to go.”
Mary Toombs turned an expectant look at Ms. Gollifol who nodded back with a knowing smile.
“Johnny, he knows what he’s doing,” said Wade. “That critter, whatever it was, I tell ya, that critter was only a stand-in. Didn’t belong here at all. Now he’s gone, we’re all better off. You’ll see.”
“Yes, you’re right,” said Ms. Gollifol. “Everything’s better with a person at the controls.”
Cici noticed they all relaxed back in gratitude when Ms. Gollifol said that, and Cici herself felt vaguely reassured. Ms. Gollifol’s flowing sense of certitude had resolved the tension everyone felt after the strange event.
“He’ll take us where we want to go,” she went on. “He’s the driver.”
She smiled and there were understanding winks exchanged. Once again congenial calm felt its way over the faces down the aisle.
Out the window Cici watched the caravan of scenery file past. Long streams of trees and houses trailed in pastel tableaus for miles. Soon traffic grew sparse and the bus seemed to have the road to itself. With a gentle swerve it turned and went up another street. Cici saw a sign: “Lyle Avenue to Little Gringer.”
Mary Toombs looked worried.
“I don’t think we’re on Yuletide anymore.”
“He doesn’t usually go this way,” Wade Ames mused, half in a haze.
“Must be some construction,” said Kid Soffer.
“Johnny knows what he’s doing,” said Ms. Gollifol. She settled back as if the detour, if that was what it was, was more reassuring than the scheduled route.
Soon the passengers began to notice the streets weren’t the ones they knew.
Cici said, “Where do you think we’re really going?”
“Oh,” said Ms. Gollifol, “we’ll all get to the right place. Meantime you have to feel the journey. Feel it. See there?”
She pointed at the video, which had stopped for another commercial. A cherub figure clothed in pink and blue floated over the image.
“Now that, that’s Meedia Baby. The real. See? What a smile she has. And that little sparkle in her eye. You have to feel it, feel the journey she makes you want to see. And she can tell you, tell it all to you, without her saying a word. Meedia Baby knows all our feelings, even feelings we can’t imagine yet, things you didn’t know you’d ever feel.”
“I don’t know,” said Kid Soffer. He nervously squirmed in his seat. “I don’t think we pass Dunster Cycle Shop going this way.” But his eyes flicked back and forth with fascination at parts of town he’d never seen.
Copyright © 2019 by Judson Blake