As he climbed aboard the bus, Jiawei nodded politely to the uniformed blond young woman sitting in the driver’s seat. He tapped his public transport card against the machine, waited for the familiar mechanical chirp and a thumbs-up from the driver, and then wandered toward the back to find an empty seat. The other passengers paid him no attention. He accidentally brushed against a teenager in a wheelchair, apologized in a soft tone, and settled next to the window in the far corner. The bus driver, who had been watching him through her rearview mirror, released the brake and merged back into traffic.
His family – what was left of it – had not wanted him to go on this strange adventure of his. But Jiawei knew that for now he could not stay. He was embarking now on an impulsive journey into the countryside with nothing but the clothes on his back and whatever just happened to be in his wallet, and he was determined that he would not return home until he figured out, as a human being with blood on his hands, whether or not he deserved to live. As he had climbed the steps into the bus he had not even been sure he was alive.
Her death had not been his fault – Jiawei knew that. But that did not erase the fact that he had held her in his arms as she died. It should not have been me.
Jiawei gazed out into the darkness of night, hoping to see stars. He found himself disappointed. They were still too close to home, and the city in which he lived was far too industrial, and thus far too polluting, for a clean night sky. He stared out the window at the numerous other cars on the road, at the living buildings leaning against the sidewalk, at the elderly man emerging from a 24-hour convenience store. When he bored of this he stared at the window at the shimmering reflection of himself. He studied his face, his long, messy hair, his wide milk chocolate eyes, and he concluded as usual: terribly average. It made no sense why the gods had chosen him.
Considering what he had been through, it would have been fair for Jiawei to feel any number of emotions. Grief, anger, depression, emptiness, disgust, remorse – even happiness would not have been noteworthy. But he did not experience any of these states. Rather he felt on one level confused and shaken, and on another level simply incredibly lonely. He did not think anyone was capable of understanding what was going on in his mind, in his heart. It was a rare thing, he believed, for humans to know what it feels like to hold each other as they die. Much less to do that holding in the place of someone else… someone who should have been there, but because of him, had not been. Jiawei closed his eyes briefly and focused hard on the act of not remembering.
The bus hummed along beneath and around him, steady and soothing. The passengers rode in silence. As they left the city behind, the driver conscientiously dimmed the lights. Jiawei thought, I have no plan, and laid his head back.
Within moments he had fallen asleep, and the bus drove on without him.