It was the coffee

The heaviness descended again on a Monday afternoon. Aduke was on her way to Portland when the symptoms began. It was beyond irritation at the platinum blonde-weaved gum-smacking talon-nailed teen at the ticketing counter, who carried on a side conversation for what seemed like an eternity while Aduke stood in front of her, waiting, a smile pasted on her face. She pictured herself leaping across the counter, smacking her so hard the the gum flew of her mouth and her jaw shifted to the left, like a dislocated skull at halloween. She shoot the images away and contented herself with tapping one nail on the counter.  One ticket switch please, when the girl finally responded to her, her British-ish accent barely changed after thirty years in the country, just slowed down enough to be understood. Earlier bus. $20 change fee is fine. Cash is fine.

She wandered around the bus station, thinking about how she’d never have been caught dead taking the Greyhound at 30. Buses were for poor grad students and others who hadn’t managed their life well, and she had decidedly leveled up when she left school. It rankled to hear the judgment from her two decades younger self. As she surveyed her surroundings and the mass of humanity represented, she decided to like traveling on the bus. It was barely a four hour ride. It would be good to get in touch with humanity – with regular people who didn’t fly or drive everywhere, ensconced away from anything that reminded them of how not perfect life was.  It was all she could afford. And she had a good reason: there was nothing she wouldn’t do to see her child again.

By the time she got on the bus she had got the heaviness under control. The rhythmic murmur of the tires on the high way, the fall foliage flashing by, the white noise of the chatter around her all combined to soothe her, reassuring her that the snap was not imminent. Sure, there was a smell from the toilet at the back of the bus, and someone definitely had onion body odor a few rows in front of her, but it was fine. She was proud to do this. It didn’t matter that it was more crowded than she had anticipated, that she was squashed up against a window seat with a rather large man next to her, that her heart had started pounding and pulse racing. I’m fine. I drank some coffee this morning. She knew sometimes the coffee made her sad and anxious. But today was a big day – there was a lot to be anxious about. She picked a point in the distance outside her window and focused on it, wishing she had a cup of tea. Green tea, that’s what Todd would have made her. Here, drink some tea, he would have said, his soft brown eyes kind and understanding.

She shook her head, brushing the thought away. It made no sense to focus on sad things. She would follow the thread of more happy thoughts. So there was no tea – it was okay. She would stop and get water at the next stop. Water was good. Water would sort her nerves out. Water would dilute the effects of the coffee. It was just the coffee giving her anxiety. Water was amazing. There would be water to buy at the next stop. Of course it would have to come in a plastic bottle. And she was trying so hard to be good to the environment. Still, the water would have to be procured. There was nothing to be done about it. She would recycle the bottle. She always recycled. Even on vacation, she recycled. The vacations she took before she lost the friends of her youth. Before they formed their little committees and agreed that Aduke didn’t know how to talk to people. Before Sheila told her that she felt some kind of way about something that had happened and by the way Kimmie agreed. It was straight out of a bargain basement reality TV show. Real housewives of Seattle. She had upset Sheila, and instead of coming to her Sheila had had a conference with Kimmie first. Kimmie agreed. And then they’d given her the cut – no responses to her messages on the group chat, vacations they conveniently forgot to tell her about, where she was sure they guzzled down bottles of red wine and luxuriated that the canker that was Aduke not present. It had been such an isolating couple of years. That was just after she met Todd, so she hadn’t noticed at first. Dear kind, sweet, Todd. He had introduced her to recycling. It was soothing, recycling was. Of course if the government would also do its part her own efforts would feel less useless. But the various state legislatures were too busy passing legislation about when life began to take action on what it would take to sustain life that had already begun. It was ludicrous really. She knew when life began. Hers had begun when she’d looked into the eyes of her baby boy, Toke. Her precious son. She would see him today. She would get to hold him and play with him. Well maybe not play. He wasn’t four or five anymore. He would be turning sixteen. Sixteen. Where had the time gone? This was all Todd’s fault. Todd had kept her son from her.  He was evil with his ferret face and cold rat eyes and simpering smiles. She’d known he was snickering at her all along. She couldn’t believe she had ever fallen for it. He had taken her son from her. He said it was to protect his life. Life. Her life began when she looked down at Toke’s wrinkled face in that hospital sixteen years ago. Alabama said life began at six weeks. But heart cells pulse in petri dishes.  She had read that somewhere. Why wasn’t that life being protected? And all the embryos from IVF. Alabama had excluded them. They could be discarded. But the six-week life inside a woman had to be protected at all costs. It didn’t make sense. They hadn’t thought it through. She had to right it. She had to write it. She had to write them a letter and take it to them just now. They would listen to her this time. The judges. She wanted to protect life, just like them. They were on the same side. They would listen to her. She knew they would.

Aduke felt her pulse slowing down, her heart returning to its normal pace. Focusing on her thoughts had worked, she thought. She smiled in relief. She looked down at her legs, and wondered at the soothing warmth of the tarred road on her calves and behind her knees. Well, it made sense. Dark colors absorb heat. She had taught her dad that. But her feet hurt. What happened to her feet. And the hem of her pink lace dress – she’d worn this because it made her feel confident – it was torn and jagged and trailing. Trailing. Her gaze travelled upwards slowly, taking stock. Skinned knees. Bleeding palms. Bruised arms. No. Had Todd mistakenly locked her in her room again? Todd. She hadn’t seen Todd in eleven years, not since he left her and took Toke with him. The judge had awarded him full custody. She laughed out loud. Since when did men get full custody, traveling IT consultants at that? She followed the trail of bruises up her arm and attempted to soothe them. She couldn’t move her wrists. Her arms were bound. Her ankles too, come to think about it. She looked up and away from her body in shock. A man in a blue Greyhound uniform was standing in front of her, a mobile phone pressed to his ear. Other passengers milled around next to the bus a short distance away, staring without compunction. She looked up at the bus driver, straining to make out his whispered words.

A passenger, the driver said. Had started to mutter and talk to herself in an increasingly loud voice. Had climbed over her seat mate and walked the aisle getting more and more agitated. Had refused orders to sit down, instead yanking an emergency window open while the bus was in motion. Had said she had to rush to Alabama to speak to their Senate about petri dishes and IVF and a baby’s brown eyes. The other passengers had pulled her in and sat on her while he pulled the bus to a stop. She had pushed them off and still clambered out the window, fallen and then started running. Yes she had left her luggage on the bus. No she didn’t appear to have a detonating device. Yes they had caught up to her. Yes, they had her.

Aduke stared at her toenails, focusing on the pink that matched her dress. She was supposed to see Toke today. She tried to gather her thoughts but they slipped just out of reach, like wisps of smoke. She needed to focus on one thing. It was the coffee. She didn’t need the medicine when she drank coffee. She was so tired of men misrepresenting her. First Todd, and now Mr. Greyhound. If only they would listen to her, she would explain. It was the coffee. The coffee gave her strength that the meds sapped from her. All she’d wanted was the strength to see her son.

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