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The bus driver walks back to his booth, just behind us. He pulls out a piece of paper out of his jacket and walks back toward the phone booths. He stumbles as he walks past us, and Elijah turns. Their eyes lock, and Elijah's hand reaches along the red vinyl seat until it touches his backpack.
The driver keeps walking, but his shoulders are tense and stiff now.
His nametag reads “Odie” as the light from the phone booth shines down upon it. It was an old fashioned booth, made of wood and glass, with names and numbers carved into it by generations of travelers. Travelers like Odie, though on a lesser scale. He peers at the paper he holds in his callused paw, rough from man-handling the wheel of the bus, his responsibility to get his ship of travelers from port to port, and home again. Home.
Before he left, his son Teddy gave him a phone card, and wrote out all the instructions for its use. The numbers to dial, the pin code to enter, how to check the balance. Odie’d lost the card back in Kansas, and though he didn’t remember all the details, he thinks there were pigs involved. Some kind of state fair, maybe? He remembers trying to call home. He always remembered to try to call home.
Sometimes the connection was harder to make.
Punching in the series of numbers at the appropriate prompts, he dials home from the Midway. The call always goes through here.
“Hey, Teddy! It’s Dad.”
“I’m good, good. Stopping at the Midway again.”
“Yep. Still is.”
“I will, you know it. There’s a girl here, about your age…”
He laughs. “I know, but well… you might meet her, change your mind.”
“Right. Got it. No worries. So how’s school?”
“That’s great! Way to go, Teddy! I can’t wait to see it!”
“So, um… is your mom around?”
“Thanks. And Teddy… congrats again. Really. I’m proud of you.”
Odie chews at the skin around his left thumb nail, waiting for his wife to pick up.
“Hey, Penny. I-“
“Yeah, he told me.”
“No, that’s great.”
“No, I will. I WILL.”
“Look, I said I will. You just… you have to believe in me, baby. I’m coming home.”
“I am!” He shouts, and the woman manning the cash register at the gift shop looks his way.
“Penny. Baby. It can't be faith if you've got proof. And it can't be love if you don't believe.”
“I. Am. Coming. Home. It’s just taking me a little longer than I’d hoped. I got a little lost on my way.”
“I know, I know. I’ve said it before. And you’re an angel to wait on me. It’s…”
He sighs, and rubs at his forehead. They always had these conversations when he stopped at the Midway. Something about the place.
“It’s changing, Penny. I know it. I’m coming home soon. And neither hell nor high water’s gonna keep me from you.”
“Who, baby? I keep telling you, there’s no one else. No other woman for me. I love you. Only you.”
He smiles at her murmured reply. “I know, baby. My bright Penny.”
“I will see you soon. And tell Teddy I’m proud of him.”
“I miss you too.”
Odie hangs up, walks back to his booth and finishes his coffee and pie, then pays the bill Eileen’s left for him with a wad of crumped cash and a handful of change. He walks out the diner door, nodding to Leilani on the way with a smile on his face.
As the door swings shut behind him, Mrs. Donnelly, sitting at the counter in the gift shop, turns to Paul, the tattoo artist. “Who is that? He looks familiar.”
“Him?” Paul watches Odie on his way back to his bus. “He’s Nobody.”