The green window glass in the sliding door reflected Vaanadhi scribbling in a pocket notebook. This was Jackie’s last glimpse of that compartment, as she passed into a dark, bare corridor hardly wider than her shoulders.
Five paces, turn left; four paces, turn left again; three paces, and Jackie exited the passageway into a lamplit room. The first thing she saw was a great window that took up most of the wall about six feet ahead of her. Through the window she could see a sign for River Street.
Jackie pivoted ninety degrees to view the rest of this rectangular space. With the window now on her left, she looked across the room to a narrow built-in berth, neatly made up. To its right, a door opened onto a small, sparkling bathroom. The other two walls sported countertops littered with charts, receipts, and leather bound books.Throughout the main chamber, sturdy carpeting of harvest gold made walking and standing more comfortable. And in the centre of the room stood a ship’s wheel.
Behind the wheel, an affable old fellow lounged with a novel in a captain’s chair. “Fine weather we’re having.” He wiped toast crumbs from his whiskers.
“Yes, it is. But my friend and I didn’t want to turn east.” Once more, Jackie had spoken without reserve. “Please tell me which bus we should take?”
“Well now, the schedules are a bit unpredictable. And never mind your friend,” the man continued brightly, “she’s already gone.”
Jackie was about to ask for clarification on that statement, when a sheaf of small papers on the nearest counter caught her eye. Bundled together with an oversized butterfly clip, they were the size of a human hand: bus tickets? The tickets were printed with a line for one’s name and a box for comments. On the top one, “Greg Lerner”, in block letters, prefaced the longhand testimonial: “Thank you so much! It was quite the ride.” Stamped in blue ink across the ticket was the word “Paid”.
“Hey, that’s — wait a minute! Sir, I didn’t get a ticket.”
“Passengers don’t receive one until they reach the end of the line. If you’d paid better attention to Vaanadhi’s latest book, you’d remember that.”
Jackie smiled with only one side of her mouth. “Too much administration work these days.” Then she looked the old man in the eye. “I need to get off the bus now.”
“And this is your stop.” In the wall opposite the window, a panel opened. As Jackie walked past the gentleman, he touched two fingers to the brim of his cap. “See you again!”
Jackie stood on the sidewalk watching the bus pull away. Then she crossed the street to the stone gates, entered the lane, and slipped through the open doorway of the crowded chapel. She found a seat just as Vaanadhi reached the front.
“I am honoured to be asked to say a few words today. When I was still an undergrad student, my advisor, Jackie — ah, there she is — urged me to take Dr. Lerner’s Classic Literature 101 course. I said I would follow her advice. A few years later I was writing a Master’s thesis under Dr. Lerner. And all this work because of my preposterous ambition to write novels!” Muted chuckles issued from the crowd. “Dr. Lerner offered to his students a mighty key — a Greek key, if you will — to unlocking the secrets of great literature. He imparted a love for symbolism and close analysis that has enriched both our reading and our writing immeasurably. We shall miss him.”
Vaanadhi closed her pocket notebook, strode down the aisle, and joined Jackie in her pew. “So, Jackie, you managed to get off at the right stop?”
“Yes,” Jackie whispered. “I prefer driving; that bus ride wasn’t an experience I’d want to repeat anytime soon. But at least I didn’t get a ticket.” She covered her mouth with her hand, and Vaanadhi coughed discreetly.