He was sitting at the bus stop on Snell and Branham, waiting for the sixty eight and decked out in black. No biggie; lots of people wear black. He looked young, young enough to be a student. I would've guessed he was probably heading down to Santa Teresa, except the bus going that way was on the other side of the street.
We didn't talk- why would we? I had a book, and he had a cellphone, and it's against bus-bench protocol to just start chatting out of nowhere. We both listened to our MP3 players and waited, neither acknowledging the other's presence. Still, through the sound of Jem cooing in my ears, I could hear him humming under his breath. He was so absorbed in his phone, he probably didn't even realize it. I recognized the tune.
Don't fear the reaper. . .
He glanced up, surprised. I hadn’t realized I’d said it out loud.
“Yeah,” he said. “I like the song.”
“’S cool,” I said awkwardly. Rules of polite conversation held that since I’d inadvertently started this conversation, I had to wait for him to stop it. “You heading for the school?” I said, hoping the topic of school would deter him.
“Nah. Nothing interesting happens there.”
"Okay," I said, hoping the conversation would die.
He didn't take the hint.
"Yeah, I usually just hang around, you know?" He stretched. "Not like anyone notices." He took off his headphones. Regretfully, I removed mine as well.
I glanced at him and saw a skull necklace around his neck. Cute. One of those kids, then.
"So where you headed?" he said.
The bus was coming. I could see it down the road, held back at a stoplight.
"Nowhere, really," I said, tucking my book into my bag. The light had ended.
He grinned. "Oh, you waiting for someone?"
The bus pulled up.
"I guess you could say that."
We both stood up. The numbers on the bus screen flashed sixty six.
"Damn," he said, sitting back down. "Mine's the sixty eight."
I remained standing.
The doors opened, and I waited politely for an older woman to make her way down the steps. She tripped once and just managed to catch herself on her cane before she could go sprawling onto the pavement.
I stepped forward, my hand placed gently on her shoulder in order to steady her.
"Thank you," she said, obviously not used to having people help her out.
"Welcome," I said.
I waved the bus driver on, then stepped back beside the bench. The old woman waddled off, her cane clacking on the concrete.
"Not your bus?"
I checked my cell. "Yeah," I said. "It was." I slid it back into my pocket and watched the old woman.
"Three. . . two. . . one. . . Now."
She was halfway down the block when the truck hit.
I don't know what made it happen. I rarely do. I usually have to hear about that bit of it later on in the news.
The pickup turned out of its lane, across the meridian and into oncoming traffic. It was a red light on that end, so the road was clear when it turned sharply to the left and drove straight into the sidewalk. It had all of the block it could've driven through, and it managed to get the two or three feet the old woman was occupying at the time. It didn't stop there, either. It kept on going, passing over the little hill between sidewalk and parking lot until it went through into the shopping center and hit the dollar store on the other side.
I didn't worry unduly about that: I wasn't scheduled for anyone over there that day.
Horns blared. People screamed. The kid next to me stared.
"Holy shit!" he managed. He was already pulling out his phone- whether to call for help or take a picture, I don't know.
I was already heading down the sidewalk, off to my next appointment. There was a tug at my jacket. I turned and saw the kid holding onto me.
"You knew!" he shouted. "You saw it coming, I heard you counting!"
I'd been counting down again? Damn. That's probably a bad sign. Means I'm getting bored or rusty. Disregard for human life and all that jazz.
"Don't be stupid," I said. "How could I have possibly known what would happen?"
He stared at me, eyes wide. I pried his hand off of my coat.
"I- I don't-"
I held up a hand to stop him.
"Kid, you didn't see anything. How could you? I didn't do anything. I helped an old woman get off the bus."
"But-" He looked lost.
I sighed and walked him back to the bench. He sat down, and by the way he held his head I could tell he was trying not to look at crash. Some sort of shock must have been kicking in, he was being very agreeable.
"Something tragic happened, okay? And that's very sad. But as far as everyone in the world is concerned, I didn't have anything to do with it. You understand me?"
He nodded dully.
"Good." I started off again.
"That's it?" he said.
I nodded, then realized he couldn't see me. "Yep," I called. "That's it."
"You don't have anything else to say?"
I stopped walking and thought for a moment.
Without turning, I said, "Be careful when you cross the street."
Sirens started up: the police would be there soon. I gratefully pulled out my headphones again. I'd never turned the player off, so my music was still waiting for me.
Behind me, cops and ambulances pulled into the parking lot. I didn't bother looking back.
I had other business to attend to.