John would feel so much better if he could read the language here. He knew a few words, and the cds he’d been listening to had taught him a few phrases, but he was still very lost. He had managed to fumble his way through the ticket kiosk, and the attendant had been helpful enough. He had been patient when he tried to count out the money for it. So now he waited at the bus stop. Bus 3 was the one he was supposed to get on, the kiosk attendant knew enough to tell him that specifically. And bus 3 was supposed to arrive at around 3:30. It was almost time now.
The rain was starting soon. Big, mean-looking clouds were rolling in. He had heard the storms could get very bad here, and this bus stop was not very well covered. It was 3:12 now, and he could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. A bus pulled up to the stop. He couldn’t read the sign on the side of the bus. He tried to remember if that was the symbol for ‘3’ here. An attendant lept out of the bus as it stopped, gesturing to John’s bags.
He said something, but John still couldn’t speak the language. The man gestured again. John held up his ticket.
“Bus 3?” John mumbled, hoping the man could understand him.
The man took the ticket to examine more closely. Looked at John, then looked at the clock. 3:13.
“Yes,” the man said with a thick accent, “This bus you.”
“The ticket says 3:30?” John said confused.
“Early,” said the man smiling. He tore the perforated edge of the ticket, and reached for John’s bags. John looked at his ticket, and looked at the bus again. It could be bus number three. He desperately wished he had taken more time to learn the language. As the man stowed John’s bags in the luggage compartment, John shrugged and boarded the bus. He had to trust that the man could read his own language, and if it was the wrong bus, he could probably get it sorted out eventually. Why not? It’d be an adventure.
The bus was very nearly empty. He could only see to other people in the seats. An older man with stark white hair, and a woman about John’s age staring out the window with tears in her eyes. Neither moved as John took his seat. He chose a seat near the back, reasoning that it would be quieter there, and he was very tired from the flight. It had been the longest flight he’d ever been on.
He slumped into his chair, and heard the bus driver say something over the intercom. John didn’t listen. He didn’t speak the language anyway, so what was the point. As the driver explained something, which John surmised was about times to destinations, John drifted off to sleep.
He awoke a few hours later, stretching and yawning and checking his watch. It was almost 6pm. He should be getting to his stop shortly. He looked around the bus. The old man and the woman were still here, they must be going to the same place, and a few more people had boarded. He heard the driver announce a stop over the intercom. John may not be able to speak the language but he knew the name of his stop, and he didn’t hear the name in this announcement. He checked his watch again and leaned back. He knew he shouldn’t go to sleep again. If he did, he might miss his stop.
The stop the driver spoke of came and went. It definitely hadn’t been John’s stop, but a few more people had come aboard. John looked out his window to watch the world go by, but he couldn’t see much. It was only six but things had gotten darker than he would have expected. He waited for his stop.
At 6:45pm, John was very worried. He was sure he should have been there by now. He was supposed to arrive at just after 6. His friends would be waiting for him. The bus was nearly full now, and John was very confused. Were they all going to the same place?
Finally, John decided to talk to the driver. He walked up the aisle to the driver, who smiled and greeted him warmly.
“Yes?” he said.
“Hi. Uh..I was just wondering how long till my stop,” John showed him his ticket again. He knew what it sounded like, but John wasn’t sure he could say it himself without butchering it, and he didn’t want any confusion right now.
“Oh, soon. Soon.”
“How soon?” John asked, “Because I think I’m already really late.”
“Yes. Were early. Running late now. Very sorry,” the driver said, still smiling. “Next stop is good. Last stop. Next stop is yours.”
“Oh? Oh, well, thanks. Thanks a lot,” John said returning to his seat. He could see some of the other passengers were a bit confused as well, but everybody seemed to be a foreigner here, so that wasn’t unreasonable. He had seen the same thing in the international terminal anytime an announcement had come on before it was repeated in english.
John heard the driver come on the intercom again, he didn’t say John’s stop specifically, but he had said that John’s was the last stop, so maybe he was just saying that ‘Last Stop’.
The driver pulled the bus to a stop, and got up from his seat.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the driver said this rehearsed speech with a heavy accent, “the rain is getting worse. If you will please wait in the stop’s waiting room, we will get your luggage out and to you quickly, and you may stay dry while you wait.”
John and his fellow passengers filed out the door, then each in turn made a mad dash through the rain towards the lit waiting room about twenty feet away. None of them escaped unsoaked, but John was glad they didn’t have to wait out in the rain while the driver sorted out which bag belonged to who. Once the last of the passengers was in the room, the driver appeared at the door to the little enclosure, which was built into the side of a building that looked the a bus office or a train station or something. Some kind of office/garage/warehouse type combo. John wondered briefly why there weren’t any chairs her in the waiting room. Surely you could be waiting a long time for a bus, and a seat would be preferred. Then he wondered where his friends were. They’d said they would be waiting for him at the bus stop. Where were they?
“Ladies and gentlemen, please make your way through that door,” the driver pointed to a door on the far side of the room, “to the main lobby. I’ll take the bus around and unload your luggage in the garage so it remains dry, and we’ll have it out to you in no time.”
Many passengers were clearly uncomfortable with this, but they were all foreign and weren’t sure if this was standard procedure or not. Most decided to go for the door. The few who did not were swayed by those that did. John shrugged as well. It wasn’t as if the driver would steal their luggage. There were security cameras at the stop at the airport, he had been sure of it. If this driver did anything to his luggage, he could find a way to tell the police who did it. Even if he didn’t speak the language.
He followed his fellow passengers through the door. Inside was a simple, completely unadorned hallway with concrete floors and walls and ceilings. The lights were very dim here, and the hall was very narrow, only wide enough for two people if they walked very close together.
It reminded John of something. Something from his childhood growing up in farm country, but he couldn’t quite figure it out.
Someone up ahead called back that the door at the end of the hall was locked. John was about to suggest going back, when the door behind them crashed open. John and his fellow passengers turned back to see several men, dressed all in black, pointing guns at them. Somebody screamed, and somebody banged on the door ahead of them. John heard the door click, unlocking it, and people ahead of him began to run through before John could warn them.
It was exactly like his childhood, when he’d been taken to see the slaughterhouse.