The lurching of the bus woke Rich. Disoriented, he looked out the window. Had he missed his stop? Again? He squinted through the dirty bus window. Nope, thank goodness.
His head still foggy, Rich looked up to see a pretty young woman saying something to him. He frowned at her, trying to make sense of her words. He must have been deeply asleep. Everything was coming to him as if through murky water.
The woman smiled sweetly and gestured to the seat next to him, her eyebrows going up. Rich nodded, waving her into the seat. The woman turned fully toward him and spoke with over-exaggerated enunciation.
“Thank. You. How. Are. You.”
Rich frowned, puzzled. Before he could respond, the woman sighed and slumped back into the seat, her pleasant demeanor morphing into stress-filled exhaustion. She was young, dressed for lower-level office work. Again Rich began to respond, but she beat him to it.
“You know, I’m kinda glad you’re like this. I so need someone safe to talk to this morning.”
Rich realized with surprise that she assumed him deaf and mute. Instinctively, he said nothing.
“I don’t know what to do,” she went on. “I think I’m going to lose my job today. What will I do then? I have to keep this job. But if I stay, I may be in jail this time next year for murder.”
She never looked at Rich whose eyes had widened.
“I mean, I wouldn’t really kill my boss, but, well…sometimes I wish I could. There. I said it. Why can’t I be the kind of person who speaks her mind and can stand up to a lech like him and tell him where to get off. He knows I won’t, and that’s why he does it. He knows he can get away with a comment here, a…touch there.”
She shuddered and Rich felt his face go red, his jaw clench.
“So I decided today was the day… But I know I can’t do it. I am such an inexcusably wimpy, noodle-spined, coward.”
Her voice cracked and Rich looked over. She was digging in her bag where he could easily see two paperback books. One eyebrow went up.
“I just keep telling myself,” she went on, dabbing her eyes, “that it’s okay to be a chicken. I really need this job. I mean, what else would I do?”
A sudden thought made Rich look out the window. Weren’t they nearly there? Yes! Next block. Thinking quickly, he moved as if to adjust his pant leg and knocked her bag off her lap. With a look of embarrassment, he bent to pick up her belongings, making sure to have both books in his hand when he sat up. His face lit up and he looked out the window as the bus slowed for its next stop.
Rich smiled and gestured with the books toward the large bookstore which he knew had a “Now Hiring” sign in the window. The woman nodded knowingly as she tucked her books back into her bag. “Yeah,” she said, “I love that place—“ She stopped suddenly and stared more closely. “Hey….” Rich sighed with relief.
She sat back again, quiet for several moments. “You know, there are other jobs out there. Maybe… ” Her voice stronger, she said, “I can do this. Just march in there, look him in the eye and say, ‘I quit.’ He’ll know why and that’ll be enough. George Johnson will be shocked for once.”
She looked over at Rich who kept his face impassive. “I sure am glad you were here. I know you have no idea what’s happened, but you may have just changed my life.” The bus began to slow and the woman faced Rich again.
“Have. A. Nice. Day.”
Rich smiled and nodded as the woman got off the bus, then made a mental note of which office building she walked toward.
One day he’d come back. George Johnson was in for two shocks.