It was a cold night…but it’s always a cold night when you live at a bus stop.
Welsh had been sleeping at this particular bus stop for 3 months. The longest time he had stayed in one spot for years. Usually, he gets kicked out or arrested before that point and then has to move to another spot. Or rather forced to another spot.
Currently, several onlookers are standing approximately 5–10 feet away. Far enough to be away from his stench but close enough to let the bus driver know that they are waiting. They think he doesn’t know what they are thinking or whispering but little do they know that Welsh often says the same things about himself.
He’s a bum…
He’s not worth it…
Every night, the same thoughts resurface and the feeling of failure clouds his mind. He doesn’t want to call a random bus stop in an urban city his home. And legally, he can’t. This bus stop isn’t his home but a temporary stop. His self-worth dissipates with each passing day—no, with each passing second. Sometimes, on lonely, cold nights such as this one, Welsh reminiscences about his dead dreams.
They weren’t quick deaths. They were slow and painful. The kind that he fears he’ll have. With that in mind, he goes to sleep.
That morning, Welsh stood up and walked around the bus stop, stretching his underused muscles and proving his body some relief. His leg exploded with pain as he pushed it against the ground but it was not the type of pain he could afford to have or take care of so much like most issues, he pushed it down.
Closing his eyes, Welsh focused on the cars bustling past him, honking their horns and revving their engines despite it being morning and the speed limit being 35 mph. People were walking past his bus stop as well, stomping on the ground and talking on the phone. It was going to be a windy day shown by the way the breeze was getting stronger by the second and the feeling of humidity.
Opening his eyes, Welsh could see the grey clouds and trees dancing but also a girl walking past him with a backpack that was too big for her and wearing a brilliant smile, the kind of smile that managed to warm him up despite the 60-degree weather.
“Good morning!” she had said and kept walking, backpack threatening to tip her over but she stayed steady. Continuing to walk to her destination and leaving Welsh confused.
She couldn’t have greeted him, right? No. Of course not. There had to be someone else around, but when Welsh looked around, there was no one standing in his vicinity.
Welsh shot down the idea. It was a mistake. It was an accident. It was nothing. That’s what he told himself.
At least, that’s what he tried to reason with himself until later that day when she was walking back and wished him a good afternoon. Then wished him another good morning the next day. And the next day. And the next. Always with a gentle smile and a soft wave. For some reason, she would take the time to pause her music and remove her large headphones to greet.
On the fifth day, he had decided to finally do something about it.
“You can sit down anytime if you have the time!” He had accidentally yelled.
It had been a while since he had talked to another person let alone even used his voice. His overexcitement had just jumped out of him. The girl jumped at the sudden shout, shocked at the current situation shown with her eyes wide and eyebrows raised. She no longer was moving towards her destination as she stopped dead in her tracks, confusion visible on her face.
Welsh could feel his heart slowly sink into his stomach as they both wordlessly stood there. He knew that he had screwed up before even learning her name. Why would she even want to talk to him? Welsh knew that it had been a stupid decision. He just prayed that she wouldn’t report him because he could not deal with being arrested again.
“Hmm?” is all she said, head tilted to the side.
This time, Welsh took a deep breath and spoke softer, “You could sit down, you know? Talk. If you have time, of course. Today or tomorrow or whenever.”
He was desperate. He knew it himself and he was pretty sure that she knew it as well. Maybe in another life, they both could have shared a conversation where they were on equal grounds. But it would not be this life.
Welsh was about to take it back when the girl walked closer to him and smiled joyously, “Well, I have time today.”
She went to the other side of the bus stop and sat down, setting her backpack on the seat next to her. Now sitting, she put away her headphones and looked at her phone. Welsh could tell that she was texting someone as she smiled into her phone before putting it away in her pocket. Her warm gaze fell on Welsh yet again.
It was awkward, to say the least. None knew what to say or how to start the conversation. Unable to handle the silence, Welsh spoke up, “What is your name?”
“Anaya,” she corrected and then laughed into her hand, which caused a crimson flush to spread on Welsh’s cheeks from embarrassment, “Don’t worry about it. A lot of people get it wrong. But it’s just Ah-nah-yuh.”
“Perfect. What’s yours?”
His voice became hoarse as he began to fidget in his seat. No one had asked his name in years to the point that he forgot he even had one. The first gift he ever received and he had forgotten all about it, “My name is Welsh.”
“Oh, that’s cool. So what is it?” “It’s Welsh.”
“Oh. Okay,” she laughed yet again, hand again hiding her smile but regardless, her laugh was just as infectious. Even the passerbyers caught notice as they all turned their heads to see what the commotion was. Welsh couldn’t help but laugh with her. His first laughter in a long while, “I get it. Sorry. I totally misinterpreted that.”
He shrugged as his lungs began to hurt from the laughter. Feeling a coughing fit about to come, he attempted to settle down and guide the conversation, “It’s fine. I got that a lot as a child.”
“It’s still a cool name. Very unique.”
The compliment caught him completely off guard. It’s not that he had never been complimented before but it had been a while since he received one. Welsh wondered if Anayavwas aware of that fact as she waited for a response. She sat patiently on the bench, watching as cars passed by them all while he debated the proper response. Was he supposed to thank her?
Compliment her in return? He couldn’t remember, so he went with a third option, “Are you an artist?”
“Are you an artist?”
Anaya looked upwards at the sky as if really considering the question and her response, “Not particularly but I am a writer. That counts as art right?”
“Yes, it does. What do you write?”
For the first time during their conversation, she had looked down at the floor and at her feet, avoiding any eye contact in the process, “Promise you won’t make fun of me?”
Welsh did not wish to offend the girl and certainly not damage the only relationship he currently held so he put a hand over his heart and raised the other just as he had learned in boy scouts all those years ago, “I promise.”
“I write fanfics,” she muttered as if that was any explanation.
It certainly wasn’t to Welsh, “Fanfic?”
“Yeah, you know, fanfiction. When you take already developed characters and divulge away from what’s written. Adding to the story and characters in my own way.”
“Do you publish your fanfiction?”
“I do actually but it’s all anonymous. I don’t think I will ever be confident enough to publish under my own name. Fanfiction or original works.” “So, you do write original works?”
“Yes. Well, I try.”
“What do you write about?”
“Dystopias for the most part.”
“What are you writing now?”
“Well, don’t steal my idea but it’s basically about college admissions. High school seniors have to take the ‘college entrance exam’ but only the top 10% get to live. The rest get murdered to solve the world’s population problem. For the main character, Dan, their school test is specifically about being fit enough so it’ll be like the Purge meets the Hunger Games meets Freaky.”
He didn’t know any of those movies but he nodded along hoping that his ignorance would not show at a time like this.
She must have noticed as her gentle smile returned, spreading from corner to corner of her face, “Don’t worry. My girlfriend reacts the same way when I talk about my writings. I just kind of rant and throw in a lot of references she doesn’t understand.”
“Yeah. Of 3 years,” her smile transitioned from a gentle one to more of a fond one, “She’s the actual artist of the pair of us. Specializing in sculptures and oil paintings.”
“What’s her name?”
“Yeah. It’s Hebrew or Scandinavian, I think? I’m not too sure though.” “Derived from the archangel Michael,” he commented, memories from the past resurfacing as his vision began to blur, “It’s a lovely name. My wife was named Mikaela too. She was—She was lovely.”
“What a wonderful coincidence then. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman,” Anaya leaned in, outstretching her hand to Welsh’s.
“Oh no, my dear. I’m dirty.”
“So am I. I just came back from chem lab.”
Welsh looked at her hand and debated heavily. What would the onlookers think? Her hands looked soft and clean. How could he in any right mind taint that? And yet, she left her hand there, waiting for Welsh to take it. After what felt like a lifetime of thinking, Welsh then took the hand.
It was warm. Too warm. His hand began to burn as the warmth only increased until he wanted to tear off his skin, the sensation becoming too much. He forced himself to hold on, not knowing when the next time he would get the opportunity to hold someone else’s hand would come. He held on until he could not any longer and was forced to let go much to his chagrin. Unable to look her in the eyes, he looked down and started to regret his decision to start this conversation.
Welsh started to regret his decision to start this conversation. Who would want to talk to him? Willingly that is and hear about his life. He had not told anyone his name, or about his wife, in years. Information that he thought would die with him. Information that became so private that at times, it made him doubt he existed or that any of it happened.
“What about you? Are you an artist?” He looked up and saw that she was still smiling. It was as if her life depended on it because it did not waver. Not at all. Not during the entirety of the conversation.
“I like to sing.” “Covers or originals.”
“That’s wonderful. Would you mind singing for me?”
He couldn’t meet her gaze. He knew that she listened to music religiously as she would constantly have to pause and unpause it to say hello. Her standards of music were probably too high for Welsh to ever reach, “Not today. Maybe later.”
There was a confused look on her face but she quickly recovered, “Later it is then.” “So what are you studying?”
“Biochem,” she shrugged.
“What is that?”
“Biological chemistry. Basically studying the chemistry of living things.”
“It’s not as impressive as it sounds.”
“Don’t put yourself down. It is impressive,” flashbacks of a simpler time flooded his mind. Back when he was married. When he had friends. A time when he had money and parents. Moments that he would never get back, “When I went to college, I studied economics.”
“Econ? Now that’s impressive. For my gen eds, I signed up for econ. I could never. That was the hardest class I had ever taken.”
“Yeah. Chemistry, biology, hell, even physics all makes sense to me. It’s just concepts and math,” getting more animated with her explanation she continued, “Like the graphs and the microeconomics vs. the macro and the stock market? None of that makes sense to me.”
“My father was an economist so I had help,” his father had paid to put him through college at Suffolk University back in Boston. It had been a decade since he had been home, “He is actually the one who picked my major.”
“Did you like it?”
“I did not dislike it.”
“Maybe later on, you can help me with econ then. Tutor me.”
“If you want.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Anaya then reached to grab her phone, checking the time, “Well, Welsh, it was nice meeting you but I have homework to do.”
He knew this wouldn’t last forever but it still hurt nonetheless to have it end, “Of course.”
“Talk again tomorrow?” she asked as she stood up, casually putting on her backpack. “What?”
“Do you want to talk again tomorrow?”
“Yes. If you want to.”
“I do want to,” she began to walk back in the direction she was originally heading in, as if nothing had happened. After taking 6 steps, she then turned around and waved, “See you tomorrow, Welsh.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Anaya,” he muttered, still in shock that she decided to come back for whatever reason. He watched her walk until she turned the block, no longer remaining in his field of vision. With her gone, Welsh fixed his position at the bus stop to get comfortable. Onlookers gave him dirty looks as they walked past but that didn’t matter anymore.
He existed. If even for 10 minutes, Welsh existed. Not only that, but so did his wife, father, and mother. Anaya becoming a witness to his existence and life.
Although she was gone and he was left alone again, Welsh didn’t feel lonely because he knew that she would be back. For the first time in a long while, Welsh wanted tomorrow. He had something to look forward to.
He actually had plans.
Or he would’ve. If the red and blue lights didn’t arrive 20 minutes later to arrest him for vagrancy.
It was a cold night for Anaya because her roommates kept the A/C on all night which made her feet cold despite her fuzzy socks. Despite sleeping for 8+ hours, she was still tired and moved sluggishly through her apartment, careful as to not wake up any of her roommates.
The night prior all 4 of them had stayed up playing Jenga until their sentences were complete gibberish. Although they all had afternoon classes, Anaya had a 9 am which meant that she was the only one that suffered. But at least she would be able to greet him.
Just yesterday, they had a pleasant conversation and Anaya intended to continue it. At first, she had only greeted him because she got tired of the dirty looks he got and the whispers occurring mere feet away from him. It was his smile that got her to keep saying hello. And it was his vulnerability that kept her talking to him.
Putting on a hoodie over her pajamas and heating up her leftovers from yesterday, Anaya got ready for school. After eating a decent-enough meal, she put on her headphones and left her apartment, making her way to campus. In anticipation, Anaya had not played music, wanting to wait until after saying hello to Welsh; however, as she walked past the bus stop, she did not see him. Instead, she was met with the uninterested looks of people sitting on the bench, waiting for the bus.
Instinctively, she looked around, wondering if this was indeed the bus stop. Maybe he moved? Or maybe he went to go get food or water? Maybe he went to a shelter?
With that in mind, Anaya went to class thinking that Welsh would probably be back by the time she returns. To her surprise, she was met with an empty bus stop, no one on the receiving end of her salutations.
The next day she returned to no avail—still no Welsh. The same occurrence happened the next day. And the next day. And the next. Her disappointment and worry only grew with each passing day until one day, she sat down, just as she would have done if he had still been there.
Except now, there was no one to carry the conversation.
Buses stopped, assuming she was sitting there for a destination when in fact, this was only a temporary stop.
“Getting on?” She looked up to see a bus driver staring at her with a clear annoyance present on their face. Anaya’s mind drifted back to Welsh. How many drivers had stopped for him? Asked him for his destination? How many people knew his name? Knew that he had a wife named Mikaela or majored in econ? He sat on this bus stop every day—or he did. Now, he is gone. And a little voice in Anaya’s head told her that she would never see him again. Never have that talk.
Giving her best smile, she buried her thoughts and concerns for the man, ignoring the thoughts of what could have been.
“No,” she chuckled at the situation which made no sense to her, knowing that it never would, “I’m just waiting for a friend.”