Bus Ticket to Anywhere

11 Sep

By Elaina Norton
8th Grade

Mary was all alone. In school, at home, and in life. The only two friends she had ever had were herself and fire-hair Polly. She lived an ordinary life all by herself. She did have parents, but they had never paid much attention to her. Mary’s daily life was all a routine of homework, reading, biking, and school. But she was very independent. Since no one would ever teach her anything, she had to teach herself. After all, she did practically live alone in the house since her parents would come home and leave while she was asleep, even on her birthday and Christmas. And this was what Mary was fed up with, her parents not being parents, and her lack of friends.

At fifteen, she had never spend a dollar out of her own pocket because her parents were rich and would occasionally leave money for shopping sprees. All her allowance, all the money relatives had given her, and all the money she had found added up to approximately $5000. Perfect for a ticket out of Iowa. Mary didn’t want to run away, just to travel, just to get her parents scared. And while she planned this out, staring at her allowance box, she realized she didn’t want to go alone. Mary picked up her phone and dialed.

About a mile down the road, Polly sat on her windowsill reading a book. Her phone buzzed. Without checking, she let it go to voicemail. Five minutes later, she heard a screeching noise out of her window. She opened the window and leaned out to find Mary pulling up on her old fixie bike that badly needed an oiling. Polly waved her bony hand. Her fiery hair was falling around her face. Mary pointed to the door.

Polly flew down the stairs and opened the front door. Mary looked serious, yet she had a gleam in her eyes, the same gleam people get before they say the punchline to a joke.

“Is your mom home?” Mary asked, and without waiting for an answer, she nudged her way into the house.

Despite the fact that they lived close to each other, Mary and Polly had never unexpectedly showed up to each other’s houses. “Are you okay?” Polly asked.

Mary leaned her bike against the wall, then turned and said quickly, “Come with me, Polly. Somewhere, anywhere. We won’t be lonely, and there is safety in numbers.”

“Where?” Polly asked, concerned.

Mary looked insane right now, but utterly alive. “I am sneaking out,” said Mary. “I’m going to get onto a plane, train, ship, or bus, and get out of here.”

Polly was bewildered and frantic. “You’re crazy! You could get kidnapped or hurt. You could easily be arrested and just taken back here. I am not going. I loved my life, and you should love yours too.”

Mary’s eyes were no longer giddy and gleaming, instead emotionless and still. “All I want to do is start living,” she said softly.

Polly was determined to change Mary’s mind. She started toward the stairs. “Come on. Let’s go upstairs. I need help with the math homework,” she said.

Mary followed her to her room and sat down on the floor.

Polly handed Mary a math book before joining her on the floor as well. “I need help on number three,” she said.

Mary didn’t look at the math book. Instead, she held Polly’s gaze and said, “Please come with me. You’re the only friend I’ve ever had.”

Polly ignored her. “I guess I could look the problem up then,” she said, pulling out a laptop.

Mary stood up. “Okay then. Goodbye, Polly,” she said. “As long as nothing happens to me, I will come back one day.” And she simply left the room.

Polly heard her go down the stairs and realized how sad squeaky floorboards sounded, how sad Mary’s cheap bike screeching when she pulled the brakes sounded. She heard the front door open and close and watched Mary ride away from her window. Polly reassured herself that Mary would never do it because she had never done anything too extreme before. But looking back on their conversation, she realized that was the only reason Mary wanted to run away.

Mary was close to tears the whole way home. She refused to cry, even when she was pulling 30 mph down a hill. She dropped her bike on the porch and went in and stood by the front door for a while. When Polly had told her she wasn’t coming, it had disillusioned Mary greatly. They had been friends for as long as they both remembered. Mary had watched Polly’s hair grow from blonde to fiery red as she grew older. Polly was her surrogate sister, maybe even her surrogate mother. And Mary might not ever see her again. Might. That was the word that kept her plan going that night. At that time, Mary believed that as long as she was wise with her money and stayed safe, she could get home at any time. That was only partially true though. She would leave tonight, and it would be easy without her parents at home.

Six outfits were in Mary’s duffel bag. Six pairs, seven pairs. How many would she need? Mary took out three. She could reuse her clothes. It was ten at night. Her parents would be home in half an hour. She should leave soon. Mary put on pants and an oversized t-shirt. She finished off the look by stuffing her snow-white hair into a black slouching hat. Mary’s goal at that moment was to look like a boy. She would at first glance, but anyone who spent an extra moment focusing on her would realize she was a girl not a day over sixteen.

Mary then packed her journal, a pen, crackers, a blanket, and a sack filled with her allowance. She laced up her reliable combat boots and walked down the stairs, key in hand. She fumbled with the keys, but before she could find the right one, she heard a voice. “Mary?” Her mother was behind her. The one day Mary’s mother had come home from work early Mary was running away. Mary dropped the key. Her mother’s eyes rose from the key on the ground, to the boots, then to her daughter’s eyes. Mary bolted.

She pushed past her mother and flung the back door open. She ran towards the back door as fast as she could, as if getting past the gate would make everything all right. And then, when she did, she kept on running. Mary could taste the night air on her tongue. It was clean and cold. Mary was running to the nearest bus stop that went up the hill, because on top of that hill there was a Greyhound station.

En route to that bus stop, she stopped at a café and ordered the cheapest coffee on the menu so she could use the bathroom. In the bathroom stall, Mary transferred $100 to her wallet, because having a whole separate sack of cash looked suspicious. She left without even touching her coffee and kept on running. At the bus stop, she waited less than five minutes before the bus arrived. The whole way up the hill, no one got on. There were still twenty minutes until curfew, so Mary wasn’t worried about cops, yet.

Back at Mary’s house, her mother sat at the table. She held her face in her hands, remembering her parents’ absence, wondering why she hadn’t learned from them to never be like that to her own child. She laid her head against the blue dining room wall and wondered what she was going to tell her husband when he got home.

Mary got off the bus. She quietly thanked the bus driver without making eye contact and stepped off. She walked down a block to the Greyhound Station. It looked just like a train or light rail station. The next bus arrived in twenty minutes. It went from Cedar Rapids to Seattle. Mary decided she would take this trip. It was only $40 for a straight shot to Seattle. She put her hundred dollars into the machine and got her ticket and change and went to use the bathroom. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. “Why am I doing this?” she asked herself. Mary didn’t know. Maybe the courageous and ambitious girl in the mirror would.

Mary walked to the seating area. There was a homeless-looking man and a woman with two little boys there. Mary sat a couple of aisles away from everyone. She regretted not drinking the coffee at the café; she nearly fell asleep while waiting. The bus arrived and the jumping silver greyhound dog logo seemed to bark at her, snapping her out of her drowsy dizziness. The man and the woman with the children got on, but Mary hesitated. If she got on, the first opportunity to get off would be in South Dakota, a long way away. The driver looked at her impatiently. Mary got on the bus and sat a couple of seats from the front. Then Mary allowed herself to doze off.

Mary woke sometime around six in the morning. She readjusted her hat and pulled out her journal and started writing and drawing. At around seven, she looked at the digital bar that displayed the time and their next stop. It flashed “Aberdeen, South Dakota,” and this triggered Mary to panic. She was on a bus. The sounds of the engine and the starting and stopping pounded in her ears like blood. With every inch she went west, she realized she would never be able to go back. Mary badly wanted a window open because she felt like she was locked in a soup can on wheels. Condensed. Fused together. Only someone from the outside could free them. Mary stood up and accidentally dropped her bag. She tried to pick it up, but her arm wasn’t obeying her mind and she missed far right. Then she fell backwards onto her seat. It was easier to pick the bag up while sitting. Mary took a deep breath. Her panic attack was over, and she continued writing.

Not long afterwards, a police officer came onto the bus. Mary’s heart pounded loudly in her chest. The officer talked quietly to the bus driver, then scanned his eyes over the bus passengers like a hunter looking for an otter. His eyes met Mary’s, and decided Mary was not an otter, but a shape in the water worth checking out. His boot heels clicked as he walked towards her.

“Young girl,” the police officer said, “how old are you?”

“I-I’m fifteen,” Mary replied, not very confidently.

“Well, where are your parents?” he asked.

“Oh, they’re in Iowa. I’m going up to Belleview to visit my grandparents,” she said.

He paused for a moment, then decided he would believe Mary. He gave her a small nod, then apologized to the bus driver and stepped off. The bus started and Mary was relieved, more relieved than she ever had been. Her tight chest seemed to let go and expand.

The remainder of the drive was uneventful. There were some shady-looking characters, but she just moved closer to the bus driver when she was uncomfortable. Otherwise, she just wrote and slept while traveling and ate at diners at the rest stops. A day after the police officer event, at around nine at night, they arrived in Seattle. Mary stood up for the first time in hours and thanked the bus driver, then got off. She looked down the hill and saw what looked like a big city. There were buildings, city lights, fast cars, and sloping streets, and she saw the Space Needle. This was Seattle, and Mary started to walk towards it.

Halfway there, she saw a bike path, and on one side a tree sheltered a portion of it. This was where Mary decided to sleep. She climbed up a wall to reach the path. It was perfect. She pulled out her blanket and covered herself. Within five minutes, Mary had fallen into a deep sleep.

“Dear?” Someone was patting Mary’s face. “Wake up, dear.” Mary woke with a start to the glaring sun and a woman standing over her. She had copper eyes and brown ringlet hair that fell to her waist. She was slightly overweight, but in that attractive way some women can hold. She had a friendly and almost maternal glow to her, but Mary was still very frightened.

“Don’t be frightened,” the woman said. “I just want to know if you’re all right.”

Mary didn’t respond.

The woman sighed and said, “If you’re a runaway, I’m not here to get you in any trouble. I just want to help you. Do you want any food?”

At the mention of the word “food,” Mary’s stomach growled.

The woman smiled. “Come with me. My name is Mimi. What’s yours?”

“My name is Mary.”

Mimi smiled and they started to walk towards the city.

Mimi talked about her past. Turns out she had run away when she was seventeen to try her luck on Broadway. The biggest role she had ever gotten was as an understudy. She went to Nebraska after that, where she fell in love with a man named Jonathan. She had a baby at twenty, Laura Lee who was now six, and they had all moved to Seattle, where they opened an insomniac café and lived in the upstairs apartment.

Mary and Mimi walked until they arrived at The Coffee Beans Café, where Mimi turned and asked. “Do you want a job as a waiter here? We need all the help we can get around here.”

Mary was stunned. “Ummm, I guess so,” she said.

“Great, but that means you must live here with us. We all pitch in to pay rent and put food on the table,” Mimi said as she walked in.

Again, Mary was surprised, but she followed Mimi in. In the coffee shop, there was a man and a young girl. Mary knew they were Jonathan and Laura Lee. Mimi introduced her to them and explained that she would be living with them. They were fine with it. Laura Lee looked at Mary and said, “You’re pretty.” Mary smiled. It was the best, most honest compliment she had ever received.

Three Years Later

A girl walked into The Coffee Beans Café. She ordered a medium latte and put two packets of sweetener into it. Mary, now eighteen, caught her eye. She would’ve been able to recognize that fire hair anywhere. Polly smiled at her. Mary smiled back. They knew each other, now in an unspoken friendship. Polly put a travel lid over her latte and left. A couple of days later, she moved into an apartment complex a couple of blocks away from the coffee shop. And every morning, she would go back and order her same medium latte, and add two packets of sweetener.

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