Everything was either rain or screens. The screens shined out and lit up the rain in bulbous shapes. The rain was dripping on the screens too. Mai took her flats off and walked barefoot to the bus. She could feel the gum spots on the sidewalks.
The line for the bus was small enough that everyone who came up to it felt the need to ask whether it was the line for the bus. Mai asked. It was.
Another person walked up behind her. She could hear the splashes. He asked if this was the line for the bus. Mai answered that it was.
They waited, and it rained. Mai had no umbrella, so she was rained through. She shook. The man behind her said his umbrella had room. She said it was all right: she was already completely wet. She had reached her wet capacity, she said. She looked everywhere but his face.
They waited. There was a long parking space where the bus should have been, but wasn’t. She shook again. The shaking triggered other, smaller shakes.
The man reminded her that there was room under his umbrella. He meant this seriously. She tensed up as if to shrug, and he moved forward so the lip of his umbrella loomed over her scalp.
It was a large umbrella. Still, the distance between them was closer than it should have been. She couldn’t look at his face because they were so close. She looked away at a cement roadblock. It said “CITY” in letters with vertical slits down the middle. The man was a wash of light at the side of her eyes.
She knew she looked at her worst because of the rain. She didn’t much care, but the glances of others stung. And this man stared.
She pulled out her phone and reminded herself it was dead. He asked if her phone was dead. She lifted the black thing up and shook. He said she could use his if she needed to. She didn’t need a phone in the first place, so she said it was all right.
Cars and minutes went by. He tried conversation topics with the rhythm of a man opening a jar. By the time the bus came, he had learned that Mai had not gone to the college on her sweatshirt. That she had no business in the city. That she wasn’t going to be in Boston long at all.
When the bus arrived, they both learned how a bus parallel parked. It heaved up the curb, straightened, then backed off.
Mai gladly exited the umbrella. She acted as if she were engrossed in the politics of the line. Small gaps were passed slowly back to her and she stepped into them like hoops.
When she got to the front, she pulled out her phone and reminded herself that it was dead. She had not printed a ticket. She had nothing to show the bus driver. The falling feeling of being unable to provide a person of authority what is needed took the air out of her. The bus driver stepped back and held his mouth open. What did she want him to do, he said.
She stepped off to the side and bit off thin strips of her lower lip. She watched the man from behind her show the driver his phone and board the bus. She yelled after him and shoved her way past the driver, then asked if she could use the man’s phone. He asked what, and she asked if she could use his phone. She said she had her ticket on her email but her phone was dead. Again, she held the black thing up and shook. It was now very wet.
He stepped off and away to the other side of the line, and she pushed through to meet him. He reopened his umbrella and pulled his phone out. She took it too quickly. She stood there poking it with her thumbs. He stood over her looking at the little screen upside-down. When she was typing her password, he sighed and looked up at the wall of the building next to them.
When the ticket appeared, she hissed and cradled it to the driver. As he squinted at it, droplets warped the text into rainbows. He scratched something onto his clipboard and said okay as if he were making an exception.
She took the phone back to the man. He had black curly hair and acne scars. He took the phone and wiped it along his pant leg. She said thank you and turned to form into the line. He said wait. When she turned, he hesitated, said a few preliminaries, and asked if she would tell him her phone number. He pointed at his phone to clarify and perhaps justify.
She turned back and pushed onto the bus in front of an elderly woman with a pink shower cap over her hair. The woman made a short sound of righteous shock.
Mai sat down and the first thing she did was pull out her charger. The outlet was on the ceiling of the bus above her. Plugged in, the phone dangled and pitched like a pendulum.
She fumed. All she wanted sometimes was the right to be a stranger. Cupped there in the bus seat she found a creeping drowsiness.
She awoke to something striking her nose. Her eyes opened on a world splotchy with tears. She mashed around her nose to dissolve the pain. The phone bobbed on its cable like a boxer winding up. She gripped it and pulled.
When the tears cleared she looked around in the dark. She was sitting alone, and across from her she spied the man, also alone. He was on the phone. Through the bus noise, she heard a word that might have been baby.
As she watched, he hung up the phone and placed it on the seat beside him. She saw that he was getting up, so she rested her head on the window and acted asleep. The window shook her brain.
She heard his voice from the aisle. He said he knew she was awake. He told her to listen. About before, he said. She kept her lids shut and her breathing shallow. He said he was sorry, that he had been too forward. He usually didn’t do that sort of thing. He was just glad he could help her out, he said. She heard him sigh and then nothing for a while.
She opened her eyes. He was no longer there. Nor was he in his seat. She slid over to the aisle and looked back. There, she saw him staggering along from seatback to seatback, as if climbing a mountain. The bathroom door ate him up with a clap.
She sat there in the aisle seat tasting sleep. When the man’s phone brightened from across the aisle, her eyes flicked to it. She watched it travel in a small, strange arc down into his seat.
With a loud shattering she felt her arm contorted against the wall. Her head followed and hit the window bar, and something small and fast hit the glass just in front of her face and left a spider web there. Her vision narrowed and purpled with the impact on her head. The bus was stopped. She stood up in an amber mist.
There was much screaming, but she could only bring herself to walk toward the door. She stepped on some coats and some coats with people in them. She didn’t look back.
When she reached the driver, he was muttering every curse word mixed with God and Jesus and groping among his levers. He pulled one, and the door hissed. He lifted himself up with a great effort and walked to the door still muttering. He pulled it open and gestured out.
Outside, she stood on the roadside with a few other people. She remembered being the first one out, but she didn’t remember them joining her. The rain was thick with lights. Cars steamed and the bus sat there bowed out and cracked. Her mind was too blurry to interpret the wreckage. At some point she heard the word broadsided.
She realized her bag was with her. It was open, so her stuff was soggy. She tried to close it with her left arm, but realized this was horribly mangled. She didn’t even want to look at it. She dropped the bag to the pavement and zipped it up one-handed.
People emerged alone and together. Some were carried. The bus driver counted them aloud over his muttering. No one was found dead, but one man had a neck cut that filled up every cloth pressed to it. When the ambulance took him away, his eyes only showed white.
It had been a while since the last person had come out of the bus. The driver disappeared inside. The rain stayed hard. He reappeared.
Who was in the bathroom, he yelled into the rain. Who was in the bathroom. The bathroom is locked. Who was in there.
Mai cried out. Her voice sounded to her like it was coming from inside one of the passing cars. It was that man, she yelled. It was that man from before with the ticket and the phone.
The bus driver came over to her and put his arm around her. Miss, he said, who was that man in the bathroom. Did she know his name? She did not.
Miss, the driver said, that man is dead.
She lowered her eyes and closed them. She was beginning to feel a sucking pain in her arm.
Her eyelids flashed red, and the driver’s arm drew back. The firemen had showed up. They stood there hulking and yelling, making a show. They tramped onto the bus. Soon, there was the sound of rhythmic yells followed by rhythmic blows.
When the door gave, the men filed out carrying a body between them. They tried to hide it, but there weren’t enough of them. The head was bloodied and spiked with glimmers of mirror glass. In the rush, they hadn’t even lifted his pants up, so his bare ass was open to the rain. They zipped him up into a black bag, along with some rain.
A sob came from somewhere, but no one could tell where. Mostly, they felt relief at being alive, which each recognized as inappropriate, but none could deny.
Mai grew annoyed with something. It was as if the rain were shaking her in a way that tickled. Her feet became restless. She walked in order to stand still.
Then the rain softened but the feeling didn’t. She realized it was a thing in her bag. A shudder quaked through her with the image of a large insect. She loosened the strap and let the bag fall against the pavement. It lay there, a foreign body.
She undid the clips. The flap lolled, yet nothing flickered out on wings. She got down on one knee. There was a tiny light there in the bag. She slid her hand down and plucked out a phone. Its screen was torn in ribbons. Neon water flumes rushed through the ruts. A shudder and a weak light bubbled up from within. Without a thought the phone was at her ear.
“…Sorry, I think I have the wrong number.” “Who were you trying to call?”
“I just found this phone in my bag and I don’t know whose it is. Could you tell me who you were trying to call?”
“What’s his name? Look, sorry, there’s been an accident. Things are all out of order.”
“Zack like with a Z?”
“Wait, there’s been an accident?”
“Yes, there’s been a bad accident.”
“You mean on the bus?”
“Yeah, the one to Boston. Was your boyfriend on it?”
“Yeah. Is he okay?”
“I don’t know. Probably. Most people are okay. Don’t worry. Let me just try and find him.”
She liked the confidence in her voice. She felt like another person was speaking from inside of her. People were beginning to form around her with blank, dripping faces. She called out Zack into the rain. Still her voice seemed trapped in something. No Zacks responded.
“I’m not getting any Zacks.”
A limousine passed with dark pools as windows.
“Did anybody die?” The girl’s voice was uneven.
“Hey, hey, don’t worry. We’ll find him. We will. What was your boyfriend doing on the bus?”
“Coming to visit me.”
“I’m sure he’s fine. We just need to find him. So you live in Boston?”
“Yes.” This was hardly a noise.
Mai wanted to hold the receiver, but she didn’t know where to put her hand. She found the bus driver in the crowd and rushed him. She asked him if they had a name on the dead man. He said yes it was Zachary Reimer.
She lifted the phone and breathed into it.
“Did I hear someone say Zachary Reimer?”
“Listen, I’m going to turn you over to the bus driver.”
She lanced him with the phone. He made his mouth into a little puckered circle and leveled out his hands to either side like a balance. Girlfriend, she mouthed. He inverted the sides of the balance into two segments of a wall between them. His face closed up as well.
She was left alone with the phone. She looked over toward the firemen, but they had gone. There was someone else for this. There were plenty of other people out there. She felt somehow like the worst of all, but maybe it was natural to think so.
A half-torn billboard shone. She kept her eyes on it and hoped the confidence in her voice had held.
“Listen, are you sitting down?”