MJ: A Love Story
M.J. Martin was in love with his bus driver. He had loved her for years. M.J.’s bus driver was a beautiful woman: tall, broad and muscular. She had been slightly less broad, and more muscular, at the age of thirty-two, when M.J. first met her, but had otherwise changed very little. M.J. thought she held her own marvelously well. She had shiny dark skin like satin, lustrous eyes, and a voice like a stentorian fireworks vendor, shouting into a bullhorn on the Fourth of July.
“Powell STREET, Market STREET, last stop today for route fifty-TWO,” she would roar, the sheer volume of her words pervading every empty space on the bus, filling each barren crack and corner. Then she would turn and address a few private, personal thoughts to M.J.
“Don’t forget your hamster today, Mr. Martin, sir,” she would say.
Once, M.J. had left a hamster on the bus, in a daring attempt to hear Natasha’s voice over the telephone. Previously he had left other items: a sweatshirt, an umbrella. But the bus system never phoned a passenger over such trivial items. They wound up in a cracked and peeling plastic recycling bin, once blue, now gray, with the words “Lost and Found” stamped on its side, back at the bus depot. M.J. thought they might pay more attention to a living animal. It had, however, been a mistake. The hamster had gone to sleep quietly under a seat, failing to draw any attention to itself whatsoever until several hours later, when the bus route had switched hands from Natasha to an older man named Lou, a gaunt and enthusiastic animal lover who wanted to adopt the hamster on sight. M.J. had a great deal of trouble recovering the animal, which belonged to his niece. But Natasha always remembered it.
To other passengers, M.J. was unremarkable. His neat white tennis shoes and carefully ironed slacks seemed to speak of a respectable and unfashionable job somewhere, likely involving computer repair, or pharmaceutical inventory. They would nod to him as their coins rattled and clanked and clattered through the metal maze of the fare collector, then dismiss him from their minds with the thought that M.J. was taking the bus to a work destination again that morning. Or that afternoon. Or that evening.
M.J. was the only one who knew the truth about where he was going. It was not to a work destination. His only destination was Natasha. His one aim was Natasha. Where Natasha went, so did M.J., and where M.J. was not allowed to go, his heart went with Natasha. M.J. was on the older side of fifty. He had no family, and few ties to fasten him to life, yet he was not unhappy. He liked to think he could see things about Natasha that no other passenger could see: the soft, steady light in her eyes, the warm compassion in her raucous, bawling voice. He was willing to and did follow her wherever in life she cared to go, or at least from Broadway Station across town to Route 52, and back, as her schedule specified. If Natasha ever noticed how often M.J. was there, sitting beside her, traveling quietly in his favorite seat across the aisle, she did not seem to mind. Her eyes warmed when M.J. boarded the bus. They would sit together without speaking, watching traffic and years alike drift past the windows, witnessing together the winding, smoky, honking byways and crossroads of life.