January 28th 2007.
A heavy breath of fog had descended on the bus station, causing lights to blur, and a layer of dampness to cling to every surface. He watched as drivers and security filtered through the automatic doors, and he felt the gust of warm air on his face every time just as the doors closed again.
He had finally worn holes in the soles of his shoes. His threadbare scarf was wrapped tightly around his neck, and his fingerless gloves were fraying. He lowered his head, lifted the burning cigarette to his lips, and drew a deep breath. He had been sitting here for hours.
Beside him on the ground lay a duffel bag. Green canvas, his name was printed on the side. It was stuffed, filled to the top, and these days the seams were stretching. The shoulder straps were darkened from his sweat, the bottom of the bag blackened from the many station floors it had fallen upon. His own shoulders had taken shape to accomodate the heavy bag, and he couldn't even remember what it felt like to walk without it.
A bus pulled into the station, its brakes exhaling and whistling. He looked up and caught a glimpse of the bus' number. The headlights penetrated the fog and darkness, and then was absorbed by the fluoresent glow. This was his bus.
He stood up, dropped the cigarette butt on the concrete, grinding it with the thin toe of his boot, and shouldered the heavy bag.
The sun would rise in a few hours, but he would already be on the road. When natural light was cast upon the bus station again, he would be gone. His bag a few pounds heavier, his pockets that much emptier. The thing was, the bag would only continue to get heavier. And his pockets would continue to be lined and then spent, his belly continue to get fed and then become hungry again. The only consistency was what was so inconsistent. The only thing that never seemed to change was the bag.
He shifted the strap on his shoulder and took a step forward. The windshield wipers on the bus began to sweep back and forth as the fog released cold rain. Taking a deep breath he left his bench and walked towards the bus, stealing one last look at the station through the corner of his eye.
There were days this bag groaned beneath its own weight. There were days when he wept for the weight of it on his own shoulders. The days of inspiration came and went. Days when he would stand up and leave the bag on the bench, or in the restroom, or in the overhead compartment. On those days he was done with the weight of it all. He was done with tying the top closed, making sure nothing fell out, reminding himself that his identity was carried in that bag. On those days he would leave the bag.
Those same days were the days he picked it back up again. Turn a corner and be struck by shocking vulnerability. Who was he without that bag? And he reminded himself he was nothing, that he was empty without it, and he would turn around. Usually running, he would return to pick up the green, canvas bag with his name on it, stained and smelling. Shouldering it again, he would continue on his way, he back aching from the weight, his soul darkened by the presence of the baggage.
Today was another day of inspiration.
Oh! what he could do without this bag. He could live a real life, find love, find his way back home.... the thoughts and ideas and dreams churned like turmoil in his heart until he could muster enough courage to lay the bag down again. Those were the days of inspiration. Those were the days, which inspired change. Those were the days when his heart, body, mind and soul wanted freedom from this burden.
He had grown strong for carrying this bag. He was powerful for having it. He was in control of his identity because of this bag. No one could take it from him, he was in charge.
But there were days when the bag had all the power.
He shook the thoughts out of his mind this time. Too much had been tucked away in that bag today for him to leave it behind. Someone might find it. Someone might see.
So he handed his ticket to the attendant, nodding silently and blowing the last of the cigarette smoke out of his mouth. He wondered if the attendant would think it such a "good morning" if she carried a bag like his. Would she be so happy if her shoulders ached like his did?
And then they reached for it.
This was why he hated traveling. Why he would rather hitch hike, sleeping in the bed of an old Chevy as it rumbled down the road. His fellow travelers never took his bag away from him. Some of them even had their own baggage thrown in the passenger seat, making the journey too.
The buses always took his bag. Every time.
He slipped the bag off his shoulder, feeling for a brief, strange moment what it felt like to be free. But only for a moment. He leaned over and picked the bag up in his arms as if it were a child and handed it over.
The cold rain fell on his skin and began to soak through the shoulders of his coat. The percipitation darkened the green canvas, making it appear black. He turned to climb into the bus, feeling the emptiness of his arms and the absence of the load on his shoulder.
And then he heard it.
He had known the bag was too full. He had patched and mended the seams too many times to count; this morning when he had dropped the empty flask onto the top and then clasped the bag shut, he remembered wondering how much more the bag could hold.
He heard them exclaim their apologies. He saw her bend down to retrieve the contents of the bag before they rolled beneath the bus. He watched as the wind caught hold of the loose strap and he felt his heart sink.
There, scattered on the wet asphalt, caught in the damp glow of the headlights was his life. Or, what it was his life had become. And he fell to his knees. He pushed her away, trying to hide his belongings as quickly as he could. There were, perhaps, a few more secrets, which hadn't been exposed. He wrapped up contents in the ripped bag and stood up. Shaking his head, holding back the tears, he stood up and walked away from the bus.
The rain came down harder. He felt the raindrops chase down the back of his neck, sending shivers up his spine. He stared down at his life, laying helpless in his arms. And he felt the hurt.
That's what the bag was for, anyway. To hide the hurt. To keep it. To numb it. Open the bag and it all returned... the memories, the addictions, the loneliness, a little bit of joy every now and then. Open the bag and his life would rise up, and he could smell it. He could taste it. He could hear it. The bag was to keep it all at bay.
The bag was broken now.
And he felt sick.
And he felt tired.
And he began to remember what it was like to feel...
And it was no longer inspiration... nor was it embarrassment.
But he felt something, heard it rise up with the fog.
And he stepped into the bus station, feeling the warmth on his cold, red cheeks again, letting the water drip from his boots. And he dropped his bag, dropped what was left of his life into the trash can.
He backed away slowly, still worrying that someone might find his secrets. But he left the station again, sat back down on his bench, lit a cigarette, and waited for the next bus.