Eulogy by Foster Trecost

I waited alone on the corner until a vaguely familiar face waited with me. After a few minutes spent looking for her instead of the bus, I placed her as one of the cleaning ladies in my office. They work an early shift and usually finish before we arrive, but not always; sometimes they unhurriedly empty the last of the trash, even if someone has to move in order for them to reach the can. She did not speak, but I caught her staring and I knew she recognized me. Her eyes were lifeless, her face etched.

I had scheduled the week consulting a new client on the east side of town. He started his business back when houses in the neighborhood still went for a fair price, and I already knew my first recommendation: change your location. Cars get stolen on the east side of town, especially fancy sports cars like the one I drove, so I drove to my office like usual, and from there took the bus. I never imagined I would be taking the bus with the woman who empties my trash. Her name was stitched on the front of her shirt: Vera. The bus stopped just before seven.

Vera boarded before me and whispered with the driver. At the time, I wondered what she could be saying, but to think about it now, I have an idea. I flashed my pass and he waved me by. I turned down the aisle, and was surprised to see the bus filled with faces just like Vera’s, and she became faceless amongst them. I found an empty row near the rear. I sat with my briefcase in my lap. I was wearing a suit.

If anyone spoke, the words were lost beneath the drone of the engine. Then, someone boarded and spoke the first words I could hear. Her voice was like steel and fearlessly took on the engine, beating it down. Some might grade her speech as uneducated, others as lazy, but I thought of it as neither. To me, she spoke the language of isolation – not from people, but from a reason to speak any better.

“Can you believe they work the weekends?” she asked. “My toughest shift is Monday, should be my easiest.” Several hummed in agreement. I wanted to melt away.

“Pizza boxes in the kitchen, drink cans everywhere – I think they watch football.”

Sometimes, we did. I sank deeper.

“Just once,” she said, but stopped before saying anything else. She caught sight of me and silenced her indignations, but it was a short reprieve. “Well, who do we have here?” She walked towards me. “Mr. Three-Piece Suit.” She spoke what the others thought and received their encouragements. “I think you’re on the wrong bus, Mr. Three-Piece. This bus goes to the projects. You work in the projects?” The aisle had become her pulpit; she was their priestess and I was up for sacrifice.

She faced her congregation and readied herself. Heads nodded in anticipation. The dull faces that greeted me had been resurrected. She faced me again and raised an arm. “Just what should I do with you?” It was a question whose answered I did not want to know.

She stood less than a foot from me, arm above her face, and my fear was real. I readied to raise my briefcase in defense, when she leaned in and did something I never expected: she winked at me. Only I could see her face soften and she turned around, sauntered to the front and spoke to the driver: “You going straight today, Caldwell?”

I didn’t know what she meant by going straight. I didn’t know why I had been spared. I dried my brow with a handkerchief while the quiet women of before chatted happily above the drone.

It went like this for a ways until we came to a triangle-shaped intersection. Cars coming toward us could pass without stopping, but those traveling from our direction had to take a slight turn to the right, come to a full stop, and then merge left with another lane. It was a brief obstacle, but I imagined it seemed much longer to the weary. Not until my final bus ride would I understand the meaning of going straight. The driver followed the road as it veered to the right, slowed to a stop, and then merged left. “I didn’t think so,” she said.

“Not today, Flos,” said the driver. “Not any day.” That was Monday.

On Tuesday, I traded my suit for khakis and a button down, no tie. Vera was already waiting at the bus stop and I wanted to say good morning, but imagined little of it had been good. When the bus came, I boarded and walked past hardened faces and lifeless eyes. Again, no one spoke.

“Look who dressed down today.” Flos had arrived. “Suit at the cleaners, Three-Piece?”

Stone faces animated to life. It seemed my crucifixion had been cut short, only to be continued.

“You think we’ll like you like this? Let me tell you something: it’s not the clothes. I don’t care what you wear. None of us do.”

“Don’t let him off easy this time.”

She paced and gained momentum. “Mr. Three-Piece wants to fit in. What do y’all think about that?”

“I think he’s still Mr. Three-Piece.”

“You hear that? You are who you are. Clothes don’t mean nothing. We still have to clean your mess, no matter what you’re wearing.” Flos had again filled tired eyes with hope. She drew even with my row, bent in close and, just as the day before, did the unexpected: winked. She walked back to the front of the bus and said, “I think I’ll buy a suit, ladies. I think tomorrow, I’ll go to work in a suit.”

Others began to speak: “Don’t do it, Flos.”

“He put you in the hospital for those shoes.”

“You buy a suit, he’ll kill you.”

“He won’t touch me,” said Flos.

It was then I understood why she had become their leader. She reminded them of what it felt like to live without fear. She gave them a glimpse of who they wanted to be, or maybe of who they used to be, but their jobs told them who they were and dreams of something better were emptied with the trash. They boarded that bus broken, but Flos could fix them, even if only until the next shift, and this week, she was using me to do it. That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I decided to play the part; I wore my best suit. At the bus stop, Vera stood like a statue. I said good morning, but she said nothing. I wanted her to see me, to see my clothes and anticipate my demise, but she stood with her back to me. We boarded and I saw a sea midweek-weary faces. I looked forward to their revival, even if they were revived at my expense. I sat in the same seat and waited for Flos.

She boarded with dark glasses at an hour before they were needed. She looked at her followers and then she looked at me. She removed the glasses to reveal large bruises around her eyes, both swollen. She was wearing new clothes.

“Clothes went up,” she said. “Money’s not enough – now I got to pay with my blood.” She had everyone’s attention, including mine.

“You buy that suit with blood, Mr. Three-Piece? I bet you bought it with money. I bet no one charges you nothing but money.”

This day would be different. Flos suffered along with her followers, and she was charged with her own resurrection, as well.

“We got to look worse if we want to look better. We spend half the night cleaning your mess and then we got to go home and clean our own mess, and if we try to look nice, there’s always someone to make us look worse.”

Life returned to the stone faces, revealing their contempt – contempt for me, contempt for men, and it was then I realized my presence represented oppression in more ways than one.

“You know what I’m going to do today? I’m going to go shopping.”

“No!”

“I’m going to go shopping and I’m going to buy some nice things. I want to feel pretty.”

“He’ll kill you.”

“No he won’t. But so what if he does?” Flos replaced her glasses and sat down. The bus stayed silent until she spoke again: “Go straight, Caldwell.”

When the driver came to the triangle intersection, he followed the road as it veered to the right, slowed to a stop, and then merged left. That was Wednesday.

On Thursday, I decided to drive. Ignoring their pain would not relieve it, but I was unsure if I could offer any additional help. I stopped in my office to leave a few files, to take a few others, and then changed my mind; I walked to the bus stop. Vera was there. “I was going to drive today,” I said.

She said nothing. Her eyes were damp and she turned toward the street.The bus arrived and more of the same greeted me. I walked to my seat in the back, accepting derided stares as I passed. No one spoke. The week was nearly over, but their faces seemed to have aged by much more. They needed Flos.

No one waited at her stop, but the driver stopped anyway. He opened the doors and held them open for no one. I did not understand, but everyone else did. He closed the doors and moved on, without Flos.

A few turned to look at me, their hate more focused. They were without their savior and I was somehow to blame. I wanted to ask what had happened, but the answer frightened me.

We approached the triangle intersection. Go straight, I thought, because this was here I had heard these words each of the prior three days; it seemed I could still hear them and I imagined everyone else could, too. I looked up because I could tell the bus was not slowing down. It barreled forward and swerved into the oncoming lane, and went straight. When the triangle intersection had been bypassed, the driver steered back to the proper side of the road. “That was for you, Flos,” he said, and I could hear the cries of the others on board. I was uncertain of her fate, deemed unworthy of such knowledge, but I knew whatever had happened, it was not good.That was Thursday.

On Friday, I drove to the client. Without Flos, my presence did them no good. She had taken responsibility for those women, they had come to depend on her. She used whatever she could to cleanse their reality and for three days, she used me. With her gone, they were defenseless; I never took the Eastbound 72 again. A few weeks later I saw Vera, limp as late fall leaves. She went through the motions of her job and let me continue with mine, and then she moved on without saying a word.

A month after that, I was scheduled at the eastside client. I never considered taking the bus. I drove my car and when I came to the triangle intersection, I followed the road as it veered to the right, slowed to a stop, and then merged left. I parked on a side street and when I finished for the day, I walked back to where I had left my car, but it was gone, stolen. I waited for which emotion I should feel, so many presented themselves as an option, but in the end I thought of Flos.

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