the cork

charlie ticket on the express bus

A few stops past the bus's point of origin, a couple boards through the front. They tap their cards as the bus lurches forward. He wears a black leather coat that laces up the sides, but the laces are missing and lines of eyelets on leather flaps dance with the movement of the bus. His hair is in a neat ponytail that stretches in one thick solid line to his waist, black with five inches of mousy brown roots. He stops a third of the way down the aisle, obscuring his traveling partner from view. They begin an animated conversation as the bus continues on it's route.

At each stop, people exit out the back door as more people enter through the front. The man steadies himself on the poles, a hand latched onto each side of the aisle. At each stop, new passengers peer around this blockage to see an empty aisle while they press against total strangers. They peer up at him, then exchange glances, speak in low whispers, united in a shared plight. The man's eyes dart around the bus. Do they register the crowd ahead, and the space behind?

Halfway through the ride, the couple steps out the back door and into the dark night. The crowd expands down the aisle like foam insulation into every gap. The collective exhale is almost audible, and the quiet whispers increase to laughing conversations.