Choosing to get off the bus.
“This is it,” he said. “This is where I want to stop and get off.”
The Bus Driver turned around. His sole passenger had walked up the center aisle without so much a word. That was unusual. He had always been a talkative creature. Now he stood there at the front of the bus, a dusty suitcase in hand, silently waiting for an answer. He grasped and clenched the handle over and over again. The Bus Driver’s eyebrows raised slightly and he slowly scanned down the man’s body and back up again.
“Yes. That’s right.”
The Bus Driver’s face bore a hint of disbelief. It shook the passenger’s nervous confidence enough to look out the window.
The scenery zipping by was unassuming. Farmhouses, grasses, fields and trees. A small town but not too small. Away from it all but not too far away. Yet there was something about this place. It was nothing ordinary. He knew this was it. This was finally it.
“Yes,” he said. He stood a little taller, his voice wobbled a little less.
“When you were just a boy, I said I would take you on a matchless journey. I promised I would take you to spectacular places and teach you extraordinary truths. I said I would show you unbelievable things and you would have adventures beyond your imagination. Did that happen?”
“Yes,” he smiled warmly. “Yes it did.”
“I also said I would keep you safe. Nothing could harm you. I said the entire journey would be struggle, heartache, difficulty, but…but! It would also be tremendous beauty. The only rule was you had to be back on the bus by sunset.”
“Right. I know. And I did. I always did. And I’m grateful. Really. I am.” The passenger’s voice trailed off as he glanced outside.
“I…I met someone. At the stop downtown. The one we just pulled away from.”
The Bus Driver nodded slowly. His lips pursed together. His eyes gazed deeply.
“Yes, you did. And you barely made it back on the bus before we had to leave. That was risky. Even for you. And we both know there were other questionable decisions at this stop.”
“There were,” the passenger coughed up his words. “You are right. I’m sorry. Please — ”
“Wait.” The Bus Driver took a deep breath, tilted his head and raised his right eyebrow. “I said you could stop and stay anywhere you wanted. Remember, though: once you choose, it is your life. You can't get on the bus again. When you get off and the sun sets, the bus leaves and you don’t go to the next adventure.”
“I know.” He looked straight up. All nervousness was gone. “And I see the sun is setting. I see the turn up ahead. This is it. This is where I want to be. This is the end of the line. I have found my home.”
“So,” the Bus Driver turned around and looked out the windshield. “Exactly twenty-five years from the start of our journey and you have chosen.”
The bus slowed down as it approached the last stop before the turn away from the town. The Bus Driver put the bus in park, stood up and faced his passenger.
“Okay,” the Bus Driver’s voice dropped and he stepped closer. His eyes locked with his passenger’s eyes. “Remember what else I said. I will always be with you. I will never leave you. I will never turn my back on you. Even if you go through dark times, I will be with you. The wisdom and knowledge I taught you will comfort you. When people rise up against you I will not let them harm you. These things won’t change. But you can never return to this bus again. This is forever. It is also the beginning of your new life.”
“I know. I know you. Thank you for our adventures. And thank you for this. I will do everything you taught me. I am ready to begin.” The passenger’s eyes turned red. A few tears escaped and rolled down his cheeks.
The Bus Driver smiled as he backed up, opened the bus doors, and extended his hand outside. The passenger followed his hand and at the bus stop sat a woman. Her flowing brown and chestnut hair laid on a red shirt while her hands sat shaking in her lap. She seemed unaware of the bus. Her eyebrows raised in worry, her eyes looked to the left and to the right. Whatever she was looking for, she couldn’t find it. She looked completely alone and rattled to the core. Suddenly a jolt of fear hit her and she buried her head in her hands. Her chest shook with the unmistakable spasms of weeping.
The passenger, alarmed, jumped toward her. The Bus Driver grasped his arm before he could place his foot on the first step. He looked at his old friend.
“Do you truly love her?” the Bus Driver asked.
“Yes! I never knew love until her. I thought I did! But I was oblivious to love.” He glanced back and forth between the Bus Driver and his lover.
“Ah. Good. Does she truly love you?”
“I can feel her love for me everywhere I go. I can’t escape it. I don’t want to. It is always right here. She is a part of me.”
“Good,” the Bus Driver said. “It might be too late, you know. This is very complicated. And you made it worse. You could end up completely alone.”
“I know. I have to take that chance.”
“Isn’t she beautiful?” The Bus Driver smiled and released his grip on the passenger. It was time to make him understand. “Only you see all her beauty the way that I do. I made her exactly this way. I made her for you. I made you for her.”
The passenger stood with a face frozen in awe, the truth plunging into him in successive waves as silent seconds slipped by. Everything had been orchestrated.
“Yes,” the Bus Driver said. “I knew you would pick this stop. I knew you would see her and I knew she would see you. And I knew when your hearts touched, that you would inevitably ignite each other.”
“If you know all this, then she will certainly be mine, right?” The passenger choked on his words as he wavered between excitement and fear.
“Look at the stop again.”
The passenger turned to the stop and the woman was not there.
“Where is she! What is happening?” The passenger’s face twisted and he grabbed the railing to steady himself.
“Listen carefully my son. She is not at the stop. You only saw her because you are bound to each other in a way you can’t understand. Here is my promise to you. You will love her completely. Utterly. For the rest of your life, that is a gift that will never be taken away. In fact, it will only grow. You now have the greatest incarnation of human love. But it doesn’t guarantee you will have or hold her. Know this: she is your singular true love. She is also your last love. That is the heartache. That is the risk. This kind of love requires great risk. The only guarantee is that you will love her with abandon and you will serve her in that love for the rest of your life. It may be close, or it may be from afar. She will need you regardless. And you will love her like no one else. ”
The weight of what the Bus Driver said made the passenger’s knees shake. He paused and for a long time his eyes searched the air for some mysterious answer to all of this.
“Okay,” he said, standing up tall and breathing slowly but deeply. “Okay. I will. I believe in her. I choose her. Whatever that becomes.”
“Then go and stay in this place,” said the Bus Driver. “If she is yours, there will be a way and you will find each other again. But you won’t know when. You won’t know how. If you knew, your love would be diminished from the glory of its purpose.”
The passenger turned and stepped out of the bus and sat on the bench at the stop. The door closed, the bus pulled away, and the entire world stopped in place. The trees on the horizon held the sun as it cast its final perpetual amber rays into the soft air.
He took a deep breath, stood up, and started the long walk back to the town.
He chose her. And now, he had to find her.
I have made my choice. I want off the bus.
I choose her.