Her mother had often said that it was okay. As long as she had been able to take care of herself, and was happy tending to her home, there was no need for anyone else anyway. Well, now she just lay there, unresponsive and unaware that she was being mourned by the very people who had never been there before for her. Karina had seen the entire crowd of people trooping in, aunts, uncles, cousins, fellow church-goers, and her chest had contracted. All of a sudden, it was hard to breathe. The vise-like grip on her chest had her heaving and before she could show her weakness to them, she had fled.
Jumping in the first taxi she could find, she sank into the back seat after directing the driver to the bus terminal. She didn’t know where she was going exactly, but she was heading into familiar territory. The wait at the bus wasn’t very long, and as soon as she managed to elbow and push her way inside, she had sat in the first seat that she had seen through her blurred vision. Trying to make herself as invisible as possible, she huddled by the window, hugging her purse to her chest, leaning her forehead against the seat in front of her. She could see her toes peeking out of her sandals. The chipped polish glared at her in accusation. So distracted she had been all these weeks, she hadn’t taken time for herself. Truth be told, she felt guilty even doing anything other than lie on the cot next to her mom, hoping that she would wake up and they could go home.
At twenty-six years old, she knew she was being irrational, but all she wanted was to go home and pretend nothing was wrong. Instead, she had a mother who lay dying in a hospital that she couldn’t afford. She couldn’t move her for fear she would die sooner and it would be her fault. So now she had run away, knowing she wouldn’t make it back for the night, with only the clothes on her back and a little bit of money in her purse. Somewhere out there, she knew there was someone who would take care of her for a change.
With that thought, she fell into a deep sleep.
Almost immediately, she began dreaming. It was the same dream that she’d had before. The coffin was laid out, and inside, she saw herself, her features contorted into a final scream of horror or pain. Her mother lay next to her in another coffin, and a peace settled over her when she saw her. Karina felt relief, and almost as soon as her mother’s face showed though the coffin’s opening, she awoke with a jolt.
The first time she’d had that dream, she’d kept her eyes squeezed shut, and shamefully, prayed that at least one part of her dream had come true and her mother had passed. Every time she felt that she’d had to heave in the bathroom in the suite where her mother lay pinned under wire snakes, an endless beep, beep, beeping filling the air.
Now, she awoke alone in a bus full of people. She tried to pretend she hadn’t slept, but then, not caring what a bus full of strangers thought, she straightened up and rubbed sleep out of her eyes. Outside, trees and bushes blurred into each other, and the sun still burned hotly into the dusty asphalt. She craned her neck and tried to look behind and around her. All manner of ethnicity filled the vehicle, a few Mennonite women with white scarves covering their hair sat to the right of her, and next to her were two very quiet, well-behaved school children. In the crowded aisle, there were a few construction workers, whom she recognized having grown up with a contractor father. Their clothes were pilled with cement flecks, their necks grimy with wood dust and sweat and dirt. Still, they stood respectfully at attention in the aisle, trying to take up little space.
Directly behind her sat two people, a large Spanish woman with two ropes of gold chain around her neck and several earrings sparkling in the sunlight while she nodded off, and another construction worker. He had lucked out and now sat by the window. He seemed deep in thought, and as she looked at him, she wondered what he was thinking.
His features were too coarse and dark to be handsome, his thick eyebrows set low and darkly over wide, long lashed slanted eyes. His nose was rather large and flat, and his lips were thick. He was definitely a mix of black and Spanish. She wondered what mixture of races had created him. As she stared, he suddenly focused and caught her staring. Startled, she quickly turned again in her seat and tried to pretend she hadn’t been caught.
Mortified, she started wondering just what she was up to, riding in a bus full of strangers and heading nowhere in particular. As she descended into questioning her rash decisions, the bus stopped. At the door, a young man stepped inside and joined the throng of people who seemed all to be heading either to the capital or the twin towns. Karina looked over the new addition to the bus, and she wondered if he was nervous. His hands were shaking, and as she glanced up at his eyes, she felt a bit of fear as she met his vacant stare. His pupils were wide, and a fine sheen of sweat covered his face. The sun was out and it was hot, but somehow, he seemed cold. Even his finely trimmed moustache quivered. He drew nearer, and stopped just on the side of the seat she was in. He turned and faced the front of the bus, and Karina breathed a sigh of relief. The tight vise around her chest loosened a little, and it was only then that she realized that she had been seized by the same fear that had sent her fleeing from the hospital.
She turned to sit properly and face the front of the bus again when her eyes were drawn to the bulge in the young man’s side pocket. Her heart plummeted.
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