below changing skies
an endless back-and-forth ride
how to be content?
yet content they are, or seem
with their soft, gentle smiles.
It was 5:16 on a Monday morning when Chie got on the bus.
First she slid her backpack into the space between the driver’s seat and the emergency supply storage panel. Then, feeling slightly lightheaded and still fighting off early morning drowsiness, she began a compulsory safety inspection. Running a hand through her streaky blond hair, she walked all about the bus, checking its various components for anything out of the ordinary. After about five minutes of this she settled into her seat, turned on the engine, and closed the door.
The route she drove, which went from a major southern city all the way to the northeastern tip of the island and back, was a four-day round-trip. It was the same route she always drove, and she drove it because she was one of the only two drivers willing, because she was good at it, and because at times she actually thoroughly enjoyed it. After the two-day overnight northbound leg, her company would put her up in a motel room where she’d crash for two nights, and then she’d repeat the long drive southbound. She would always set out on Monday morning and return home Friday night. Her partner would be waiting at the kitchen table with a very late home-cooked dinner. They would happily spend the weekend together, and then Chie would leave again the following Monday. She rarely took breaks from the job, except for the various national holidays during which her particular route was not in operation. Occasionally she would have to call in sick and some poor colleague of hers would have to drive the route instead – the one day of calling in sick always meant she got the entire week off. Her employers were fair and did not ask anything more of her than this one route, this one job, and she performed it well. For the past sixteen years, this had been her life.
There was no reason to think that this week’s trip would be any different.
Chie checked her mirrors, stepped on the gas, and pulled out of the parking lot. Here we go again did not even cross her mind. That phrase had lost all its meaning years ago. As she turned onto a one-way city street, she flicked on the radio and settled on a soft rock channel. For a split second her eyes caught on the simple silver band on the ring finger of her right hand. Chie smiled absently at the back of the compact car in front of her. Her girlfriend had just proposed.
The sun was just barely beginning to rise, forcing its rays through the maze of office buildings and city streets, and the undersides of the white clouds above had turned pink. Chie opened a window slightly and breathed in the crisp, clean air of a week just barely begun. There wasn’t much traffic on the roads yet, but the rush hour was not far off. A biker passed her on the left, raising their hand for a signal and a wave, and Chie waved back. She noticed a few plastic bags billowing about in the middle of the street. Absentmindedly she began humming along with the radio.
A minute later, spotting several people waiting below the sign of the second bus stop on the route, Chie pulled over to the side of the road and opened the door. And here, the real journey began.