The Bus Ride – Short Story
By Jennie Marima
I was minding my own business reading the day’s newspaper. I had sat in the middle of the bus next to a window. My seat-mate and I shared only polite nods and the occasional comment about a pot-hole here or a persistent hawker there. Aside from that we paid little attention to each other. Across the aisle, one of the passengers was on an eating spree. If he wasn’t unwrapping fried potatoes whose smell engulfed the bus, he was peeling a banana, or digging out boiled maize from his bag. From the front seats, one passenger would let out a loud yawn every so often.
After riding for about an hour, my seat-mate got a call.
“Who is this?” he asked. “Who do you want?”
I couldn’t help notice that there was something strained about his voice.
His phone rang again. It was the default Nokia monophonic ring tone. This time, I inched closer.
From the corner of my eye I saw the cheap phone —that contrasted sharply with the thick gold rings shinning on three of his finger —pressed against his ear. I tried to restrain myself from eavesdropping after all, I had my own issues to deal with.
I was on my way to an interview. My contract as a sales representative at a bank in the city had ended. It was good riddance anyway. Their terms were horrible. They paid us peanuts and still expected us to deliver millions. But any job is better than no job, and after hunting for two months I was growing restless. My girlfriend was growing impatient. She wanted us to get married. When I said I couldn’t afford a family yet, she threw a big tantrum and accused me of cheating on her. Women!
This was a big opportunity. I was going to interview for the post of Manager in a small Savings and Credit Co-operative. The opportunity was in a town about 500 Kilometres away from the city.
“Are you threatening me?” The man was saying.
I studied his features for the first time. He had a clean shaven face, dark lips— like a chronic smoker’s. He looked about 40, with a surprisingly chubby face for such lean body. He wore a casual shirt with cargo pants and sandals— like a tourist on safari. The butterfly tattoo on his neck seemed uncharacteristic of a man his age.
“What’s your problem man?” he was asking. “What are you staring at?”
That’s when I realised he was talking to me.
“Sorry, sorry,” I said, embarrassed. “My mind wasn’t here.”
The bus suddenly screeched to a halt. And like a scene out of an action movie, four armed men shot up from four corners of the bus. As if he had been expecting them, my seat-mate shot up, his hands raised in surrender.
“Please, don’t hurt anyone, it’s me you want, take me.”
I could hear muffled gasps. The terror was palpable. My own heart pounded violently.
Two of the armed men came for him from the middle row where we sat. Thugs? Undercover police? My mind raced.
“Cuff his friend in a suit as well.” One of them pointed at me.
I was on my knees, begging. “Pleeeeease, I don’t know him, I am going for an interview, Please…” My voice quivered and my hands shook like leaves in a storm. I frantically showed them the envelop that held my certificates.
“Shut up!” The man’s powerful slap left me spinning.
In a matter of seconds, they had alighted. Without me. The bus roared back to life.