Part V – Conclusion
by Hénock Gugsa
“¡Ay,caramba!” Pepe almost screamed, but immediately after that he grunted in pain ... Carlos had just kicked him hard under the seats.
The girl looked keenly into my eyes for maybe five seconds. For all I know, she probably had some magical powers of divining a person’s essence to find out if it is good or evil. All the same, she seemed to be satisfied and sat down unceremoniously on the vacant seat next to mine. I was sitting by the window on the left hand side of the bus. Carlos and Pepe were on the other side of the aisle. Poor Pepe was sitting by the window there, and he was probably wishing he had his friend’s seat.
“Are you gentlemen perhaps on the wrong bus?” The girl asked all three of us in a clear and level voice.
We all looked uncertainly at her as we sat there frozen to our seats.
“You all know this bus goes to Fugue, right? This is a company bus, and it is not for the general public use. Waldo, the driver, should not have let you on the bus without checking first.”
I recovered from my reverie, and stammered a reply. “We all three are headed for Fugue. Don’t worry. We may look lost, but we are not.”
“All the same, this is not a bus for the general public. Why did you get on? Why are you guys going to Fugue?”
Carlos spoke up. “Señorita, I am Carlos. My friend, Pepe here, and I are going to Fugue ... to the factory, to work there. They hired us through an agency.”
“And my apologies, young lady, where are my manners? My name is Matt Howard. And I’m going to Fugue to visit a friend and stay there maybe three or four days.” I now had my stammer under control.
She looked perplexed. “This is crazy. You guys shouldn’t be going to Fugue. You don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into. Fugue is not a place for normal people. I should know, and I only go there two or three weekends a year to visit my grandma.”
Pepe spoke up from the other side of the aisle, “I am Pepe Alejandro, señorita. Carlos and me, we are not afraid to go anywhere if we can find a job. We were without a job for almost three months before somebody told us about this place. We heard they make pianos and organs there. So, how dangerous can that be?”
“Pardon me, Pepe. But you probably never met anyone from Fugue before you got on this bus. Right? Well, the reason is right here in front of you. These passengers you see in the bus, including my cousin Wally over there, probably make up ninety-five percent of Fugue’s population.”
“But, young lady, sorry I did not catch your name. Are you from Fugue?” I apologetically cut in.
The girl with the pale green eyes and striking auburn hair blushed momentarily.
“My name is Emily Stoltz. I don’t really live in Fugue, but I have family there. My grandma, she’s ninety-two. She still lives in Fugue. She's lived there all her life, she was there before the factory was built. My dad was born there, and died there at the age of forty-three. My mom came there from Brainerd briefly. She hated Fugue, said it was an evil place and went back to Brainerd. I was born in Fugue, but my ma whisked me off to Brainerd and I lived there most of my life. I’d visit my dad and grandma once a month when my dad was still alive. Now, I live and work in Minneapolis. I probably see my grandma three or four times a year now.”
“¡Mucho gusto, Emilia!” beamed Pepe.
“Nice to meet you, Emily,” I said almost in unison with Pepe. “But please explain to me what is the danger to us in going to Fugue?”
“Well, you Matt, for example. When did your friend move to Fugue? Did you even know Fugue? Have you heard from your friend regularly before you got his invitation to come up there? And you two guys ... did anybody tell you about the living and working conditions in Fugue?”
Pepe, Carlos, and I were all of a sudden uneasy by the realization that we were headed to a place about which we knew next to nothing. We might as well have been like sheep being herded to a slaughterhouse.
It dawned on me that the invitation I got from my friend had come out of the blue. It was indeed very strange that I’d hear from him suddenly and without warning after three long years. Come to think of it ... was it really his voice on my voice-mail recorder? And why was it that he never called or wrote before that?
I made up my mind on the spot as I am wont to do in similar situations. I decided to get off the bus immediately and return home. But first, I wanted to make sure about the welfare of my new-found friends.
“But, Emily, what about you? Are you safe going to this place?” I asked, and the tremor in my voice evidently registered the level of apprehension I was feeling. Carlos and Pepe were beginning to show small signs of unease in their situation also.
“I'll be okay, don’t worry about me. I’m going to my grandma’s, she always looks after me. I’m only going to her place, and it’s only for a couple of days and they all know me there. But, you three should get off this bus right now before it is too late. We have now maybe ten miles left to go before we reach Fugue. Just get off here now, and go back to where you know you'll be safe.”
“Carlos and Pepe, I think we should listen to Emily and get off this bus now. I’m going to ask that scary driver, what’s his name, to stop the bus right now and let us off right here and right now. We can figure out a way to get back, I have my cell phone and we can call for help or something.” I started to get up from my seat, and Emily got up also to let me out from my window seat.
But strangely, Pepe and Carlos remained in their seats.
“We are not worried, Mateo. You can leave if you want to, we are staying. We need this job, and don’t worry we always watch out for each other anyway. We’re like hermanos ... like brothers.” Carlos said firmly.
Emily looked at them in disbelief. “You are, what's the word, locos. Listen to me. You are going to turn out like all these guys you see in front of you. They are only out for their monthly bus ride, chaperoned by Waldo over there. They won’t even get off this bus except in Fugue. They’re like prisoners, and they don’t even know it. My cousin, Wally there, barely recognizes me. He never utters a word, and he has practically lost his hearing. They are all in the same situation, poor souls. So, I beg you people. Please get off this bus now while you have the chance.”
“Yes, well. Thank you, Emily. I, for one, am going to take your advice. I wish we had met under better circumstances. But, call me or visit me at Metro College when you have a chance. And thank you for bringing me to my senses about this trip.” I smiled at her. “Well, good-bye and good luck, Carlos and Pepe. I hope things work out for you both.”
I took out three of my business cards from my wallet, and handed them out to these three dear people. "Let's keep in touch whatever happens," I said bravely.
I pressed the nearest button to tell the driver to stop the bus. A sudden screeching noise came out of nowhere as the bus abruptly stopped. I nearly got hurtled to the front of the bus as proof of Newton’s first physical law - A body in motion will stay in motion unless it is acted upon by another body of equal and/or opposite state. I was only stopped by the action of my grabbing the back handle bar of one of the passenger seats. Actually, I almost slid and nearly landed on my back on the floor of the bus.
Waldo, the driver, was looking back at me with furious and loathing eyes. The bus had now come to a complete stop, and the engine was barely audible. I straightened myself up with as much dignity as I could muster, and walked to the front of the bus.
I asked the evil driver how much I owed. He was now squinting at me with those hateful eyes. As he opened the door, he hissed out one word at me: “Out!”
I looked back once at my friends; they were all waving at me. Carlos and Pepe shouted, “¡Adios, Mateo!”
Emily simply beamed a compassionate smile at me as I practically jumped out of the bus and made my hasty exit. I had debarked safely and with all my gear in tact.
Once on the ground, I backed away from the bus and waited for it to move on. Waldo spat out the toothpick from his mouth and closed the door violently; but he seemed to linger there undecided without putting the bus into motion.
I waited to see what was going to happen next. Three or four minutes went by in this state of uncertainty. Then, without much ado, Waldo put the bus into gear at last. The behemoth heaved a strange mechanical sigh and began moving.
Carlos and Pepe had stubbornly stayed inside the bus. To his credit, Waldo had given them ample opportunity to bail out. But they wouldn’t, and I felt sad for them.
So there I was alone on a lonely highway, and it was almost noon. The overcast sky had cleared up, and the sun was actually starting to share its light and warmth again. I stood and watched as the bus disappeared from my view, but I was now feeling like I had just escaped the jaws of death or even worse ... insanity!
Ten minutes later, I had gotten lucky again. I hitched a ride back to the Cities in a cheerful, green Land Cruiser with a charming family of vacationers. In no time, life was back to normal again for me.
** "The Bus Ride to Fugue" is a work of fiction. All names and characters are purely the products of the writer's imagination. "Fugue" is also fictitious and does not represent any place from the present or the past.