By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Missed Stop–While riding the bus, a character becomes absorbed in thoughts and misses his or her stop. The character disembarks at the next stop, and encounters something surprising. What does the character find? How does this incident affect the character in the future? Describe the bus and bus stop with vivid sensory details.
Lauren stared out the bus window, the streaking rain abating but the dark clouds gripping the sky in a stubborn show.
It wouldn’t be right if it was sunny anyway, Lauren thought. Stuff like this shouldn’t happen on sunny days.
For what felt like the thousandth time since she’d sat, she thought about Colin. Thought about how she’d gathered her courage to ask him about the promotion and the raise. Thought about how he’d smiled that lecherous smile of his and said he would definitely consider her for the new position…if she’d consider a new position for him.
It bothered her, as it should, she knew. But it bothered her more that for a few minutes she’d thought about it. Oh, she didn’t tell Colin that. He didn’t need to know about the broken AC in the car and the dishwasher that had quit the previous week in the middle of a cycle. She’d stayed up until 10:30 that night doing the dishes that she’d stuffed into the machine with greed.
She could imagine, too, how horrified Mitch would be. Fury would follow the horror, and then she’d need money to bail Mitch out. No, better not to say anything to him. But what would she do about their budget? And what would she do about Colin?
Something caught her eye, and then she saw it: her stop. More specifically, her stop riding past her. Lauren jumped up and swayed in time to the bus. She made her way to the driver and wrapped a hand around a pole.
“Excuse me, that was my stop back there. Can I get off at the next one?”
“Sure can, miss, but the next bus going back won’t be by for about a half-hour.”
Lauren heaved a huge sigh and her shoulders rounded forwarded a little. “That’s okay.”
She thanked him for letting her off and made her way to the covered stop. She flopped onto the wooden bench and let her briefcase fall to the ground between her knees. After checking her watch three times in five minutes, she took it off and put it in her pocket. It didn’t make sense to torture herself when the bus would come when it came and not a minute sooner.
Lauren looked across the street and saw several women dressed in gaudy clothing. Most of them strutted the sidewalk in heels at least four inches tall, and a couple of them held cigarettes between their fingers. The sprinkle that persisted from the sky didn’t faze them. The girls had a job to do, after all.
A car pulled to the curb, and one of the girls let a smile come across her face in a lazy confidence. She leaned down to the window and chatted with the driver. After a few minutes she got into the car. One of her associates waved goodbye and then joined the other girls standing in their group on the sidewalk.
Lauren felt a flash of condescension. Couldn’t those women find something better to do with their lives? How was selling themselves contributing to society?
A handsome man came out of the apartment building behind the women. They all turned and eyed him with appreciation. He stopped to chat with them for a few minutes and then crossed the street.
No way. Now I have to share the bus stop shelter with their pimp? Oh man.
She reached down and grabbed her briefcase, opening it to hide her true intention. As she rummaged around, she felt the bench bounce a little with the impact of another person’s weight. She zipped the briefcase shut and lay it flat in her lap.
Lauren inhaled deeply. How did a person talk to a pimp? She turned to him and felt a physical reaction. How could a man look so good and make a living selling women?
“Hi,” she said, surprising herself.
“I didn’t expect the rain,” he said in an easy manner. “I hope it lets up.”
“Yeah.” She turned toward the street.
“What do you do for a living?”
Lauren turned and looked at him. He didn’t look like a slimy jerk. In fact, if she hadn’t seen him coming out of that house, she would have sworn he worked down the hall from her.
“I’m in sales,” Lauren said.
“Oh, really? My younger brother is in sales too. He works for United.”
He has a brother? And he knows what his brother does?
“That’s nice,” she said, not sure how else to respond.
“Yeah, I’m really proud of him,” the man said, a grin spreading across his features. “I was the one who put him through school, and I told him he better put those tuition dollars to good use.”
Lauren knew her surprise showed on her face. “You put him through school?”
The man nodded. “Yup. I told him he better make something of himself, that being like me was not an option.”
She turned her body toward him. “You actually said that?”
“Absolutely. I’m not proud of all the decisions that I’ve made, but that doesn’t mean I can’t steer him in the right direction, right? And if I do, maybe I can help him have a better life than what I’ve got.”
Lauren blinked a few times. She’d always imagined that pimps chose their professions, made plenty of money, and didn’t want to change anything about their lives. Maybe she’d misunderstood. Maybe…maybe this man didn’t have any more choices than she did with Colin.
She heard a honk and saw the bus far down the street moving its bovine girth in their direction. Just then a car pulled up to the curb in front of them. The passenger side window rolled down, and the driver, a semi-attractive woman, leaned over the seat.
“Hi, soldier. Are you free?”
“Sure,” the man called. He stood up and turned toward Lauren. “Sorry. I’ve gotta go. It was nice chatting with you.”
He went to the car and got in, his demeanor changing as he got in. Lauren frowned in thought. His gait had become looser, a little flirty. He almost reminded her of the women—
The car pulled away and she clapped a hand to her mouth. In that moment Lauren realized she did have more choices than him.
She knew what answer she would give Colin the next time he propositioned her.