The Man on the Bus

His shirt was torn, his jeans were dirty, his canvas running shoes had holes. An old avocado green sweater hung on his stooped shoulders. Gray bushy eyebrows concealed his eyes; when he took a drag on his unfiltered Camel I saw he had almost no teeth. Hunched over as if trying to make himself as small as possible, he still took up most of the bus seat across from me. I opened my book to create distance; he looked directly at me.

“Why are you reading that?” he asked in a voice rusty from disuse. He glanced at my book and then looked again at me, eyes dark but soft, unfocused.

Reflexively, I too looked at my book, The Best and the Brightest, and explained that I was reading it for a paper I was writing about the Vietnam War. A ghost crossed between us. His shoulders straightened.

“Oh yeah?” he rasped. “What have you learned about the War?”

Unsure how to answer, I began “Well, I guess Kennedy was worried about the spread of Communism...” A snort? chuckle? I continued “...and Johnson said it was for world peace...and Nixon wanted Peace with Honor.”

He suddenly leaned forward, startling me so I slammed my book shut.

“That’s what they were fighting for,” he hissed. “What about us?” He look around to either side, as though reassuring himself that no one had left.

I felt shocked, confused, even scared. I stared down at his filthy shoes, and saw...jungle boots, muddied by red dust, legs clad in olive drab fatigues, worn but clean, and looking up, an olive drab T-shirt covered by a flak jacket, web belt with various metal objects carefully distributed. Dog tags hung from a chain around his neck, covered with tape so they wouldn’t sound, and finally looking into his face, a young warrior with disheveled brown hair, mustache, bushy brown eyebrows, and eyes of clear brown, watching me intently, waiting for me to answer. Long moments later, locked in his gaze, I resorted to the truth.

“You were fighting for each other,” I said slowly, “and not much else.”

He nodded, and the brown eyes again softened into fogginess, his shoulders shrank in, his bare feet showed through the tattered shoes, and the ghosts closed in around him.

I opened my book and pretended to read, but instead of words, I saw graves.

C. Roberts 4/11/99,
(copyright ©C.Roberts,1999, All rights Reserved. Not To Be Used Without The Written Consent Of The Author)

Other Written Works On My Site

For The Future
One Day In Nam (for Chuck)
From The Other Side (of the Wall)
Tet '68
Forgotten Heroes
Loss of Innocence

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