The driver is swerving the school bus more than the kid who sits in the front seat had ever noticed on other days.
The front-seat kid is nothing like his peers; he is hyper-vigilant. Filling up the back rows–consumed with lewd chatter and earsplitting, rambunctious horseplay–are all the other middle schoolers who ride the 7A West bus route.
Even more than the driver having little control of the bus is the stench of booze. It assaults Front-Seat Kid’s nose all the way up to his forehead. He suddenly remembers the hook-ended tool ancient Egyptians had used to pull a deceased person’s brains down through the nasal passage. This alcohol on the driver’s breath is just as sharp, maybe not to anyone else, but excruciating to Front-Seat Kid’s senses.
The kid gasps.
Only he notices the bus driver’s near miss of two bonneted ladies in the cross walk, the pair on their way to the local market. Had they been hit by the 23,000 pound vehicle, it would have required a trauma restoration team. There would have been hazmat-suited workers scraping brain matter and bits of organs with a shovel and brush off the road.
Front-Seat Kid finds it amazing: all material inside us is placed there to sustain life. It’s only when any of it’s outside the body that mankind deems it “hazardous material”.
The driver’s jaw is slack and his eyelids half-closed. His foot is heavy on the gas pedal. He barrels bulletlike toward a railroad crossing. Front-Seat Kid stands, ramrod, and grips a metal support pole.
Last night, the wires that trigger the crossing gate had been chewed by rabid mice. So, there are no lights or bells or barriers to warn the bus driver that there is indeed a train coming to the intersection now.
The kid kicks the driver’s foot off the gas then lunges to push down firmly on the brake pedal with his own heel. He prevents a collision by one second.
As though waking from a lifetime’s worth of nightmares, the driver turns and locks his now-wide eyes with the kid. The only movement between them is the driver’s heaving chest. The adrenaline sobers him.
None of the back-of-the-bus kids pay attention to any of this. They’re still carrying on. The train roars past, car by car. Its clacking rhythm mirrors the driver’s racing heartbeat.
“Were it not for me,” Front-Seat Kid says, “You’d have had a lot of blood on your hands.”
The driver can only whimper in reply. Urine leaks into his underpants.
“Had I not intervened, you would have ended up scorched by an intense heat, in the place that is scared of its own fires.” The kid leans closer to the driver and drops his voice. “If there’s a next time, there won’t be a redeemer. Do you understand?”
A shivering nod is all the driver can manage.
“Get yourself together, man.”
The kid opens the bus door for himself and walks into a tall grass field.
Later that night, the bus driver will be left with worries about that kid: Will he file a complaint against me? What about blackmail? Who was he…what was he?
He’ll stop worrying eventually, then replace that with thoughts of all the ruin the kid avoided for the driver: job loss, being shunned at church and AA meetings, wife asking for divorce, his own kids looking sideways at their father for life, sleepless nights, criminal charges, manslaughter, prison.
The damnation of his soul.
And he’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude.
Featured Photo Cred —> diana-0421