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Far from Home: Memories of World War II and Afterward|
Mama fixed dinner, and we ate. All my things were packed and ready. We’d be leaving for the bus station shortly afterwards. I was catching the afternoon bus so I’d arrive in D.C. early the next morning. Right after dinner, someone arrived at the house with Frank. He’d been riding Effie, his motorcycle, and when rounding a sharp curve on the way home, he had been thrown off the bike, landing in a field with Effie on top of him. His chest had been bruised. Thank the Lord it was no worse, but it was so upsetting that I didn’t want to leave. After putting Frank to bed and looking at his chest, Mama said it didn’t look all that bad and for me to go on as planned. I didn’t want to leave my brother Frank there hurting, but she said they would send for the doctor to come see about him. House calls by doctors were made willingly in those days. My trunk was put in the truck and I was soon on my way to the bus station with Papa, Mama, and little Maxine. Eunice was back in Richmond. Sam declined to see me off this time.
Papa bought my ticket and checked my baggage, and we sat in the truck waiting for the bus to roll in. When it did, I felt like I was in a dream and this wasn’t me fixing to get on a Greyhound bus and ride hundreds of miles from home to start a new life on my own. No longer were there teachers or a housemother or a whole building full of kids to play with, fuss with, or share with. Silently Papa lifted my bags and small trunk from the truck, and attached tags, without looking at me. I hugged Mama hard and little Maxine, then turned to Papa. He handed me my ticket and only then looked at me. His eyes were sad, and I almost told him to put my things hack in the truck, that I wasn’t going no place, but he sort of gave me a little push toward the bus driver waiting by the open door. I hastily kissed his cheek, saying “Bye Papa,” and stumbled up the bus steps, found a seat, and sat down. The bus started up. I settled in my seat, reading until it started darkening up. Then I just looked out the window. The route was familiar, the same highway I’d been traveling all these years, going to and from school. I realized we’d be passing through Raleigh on Highway 70. I sat alert, keeping my eyes open for the first sight of my old school. It wasn’t long. We rounded the curve I’d watched so often from my classroom, and there it was outlined against the early evening dusk. I saw the boys’ dorms and then the administration building. Next I saw the dining hall, and then there it was, my dorm, with all the windows lit up. I could imagine the girls gathered in little groups near a radiator, gossiping and sharing whatever food any of them had managed to smuggle in from the kitchen. It was Sunday, so there’d be extra goodies. I felt so lonely for my old gang and the life I used to have. I watched it through the water in my eyes until the bus rounded another curve and I could see it no longer.
We reached Richmond sometime that night and had to change over to another bus. This one was crowded, and I had to sit in a corner on the last seat in the back. I didn’t mind too much. Some people were standing in the aisle or sitting on suitcases. The bus dimmed its lights inside SO people could sleep, and it hummed along the highway. I dozed in my corner but woke up when the bus stopped and whoever was sitting next to me got off. Another person immediately took the space and was rude, pushing and shoving. I huddled as far away as I could and tried to go to sleep, but I smelled a terrible odor. Turning my head to see what was nearby, it was my new seatmate, a ratty-looking man with snaggly teeth trying to talk to me, with a horrible smell of garlic, fish, and whatever he’d been eating blowing directly in my face. I turned to the window again. He jabbed me with his elbow, trying to get me to turn around and talk. I had a small case with me on the floor. I picked it up and stood it upright in my lap and hid my face behind it. The smell kept coming, so I knew his mouth must be open. The bus stopped all of a sudden, and when I peeped around my bag I saw the bus driver standing there talking to the man. After that he quieted down and left me alone. But I could still smell him. Sleep wouldn’t come anymore, so I thought about home and my dear family.