Part two of a new story

The next installment – enjoy.


           As the questions pile up, Darren keeps his eyes fixed on the passing scenery, as if perhaps merely looking at Naomi will arouse suspicion. He sticks one of his hands in the bag that, until now, he’s been content to leave on the floor by his feet, but keeps the bag out of view.

            Maybe it’s five minutes, maybe it’s an hour, but eventually Naomi wakes up, stretches and glances at the slightly grayer skies outside in what must be Arizona – lots of red clay, open spaces, minimal vegetation. She exhales deeply for a moment, then rifles through her bag, picking up the novel she was reading earlier, then reconsidering, still taking stock of her options.

            “So you heard the news, right?”she asks without preamble.

            “Huh?” Darren meets her gaze briefly, feels his hand take hold of an envelope in his bag.

            “You telling me you were living under a rock over the weekend? The big news!” Here she points at the headline he’d noticed while she was sleeping.

            “Oh yeah, that. Sure, I mean, I saw the local TV cover it, what, Sunday night or something.” He tries to play it casual; he hopes that she’ll just drop the whole thing, maybe go back to sleep, or at least let him take a turn at getting a nap.

            “It’s crazy. That building’s right around the corner from where I live. Or lived, I should say. They had to evacuate us Saturday night. Woke up my parents at one in the morning.”

            “Wow. Was – was there any damage to your – ” He stops short, unsure for a moment.

            “To our apartment? No, at least there wasn’t as of Sunday morning. But that’s all luck, to hear the fire department guys talk. Three of the four apartment complexes on that block had some serious damage. I mean, we’re talking about being evacuated for a week or more, some people maybe never going back to their places.”

            “Oh.” He bites down on his lower lip, trying now to navigate his way through what is proving to be a minefield of a conversation. “Is that the Sunday paper, or today’s?”

            “This? Today’s. Picked it up right as I was leaving to catch the bus.”

            “Any developments?” Naomi scans the article, opens to the middle pages to see the continuation. As she does, Darren cannot help but see the serious look on her face, the curve of her jaw set as she reads, even the way her elbows point out like a ballerina’s as she spreads the metro section of the paper full and wide.

            “Besides the police saying it’s definitely arson, there’s not a lot. I mean, there’s a bank in that building, plus some offices. They’re speculating that whoever did it – and they seem to think it was at least a couple of people – must have had some sort of motive connected to the bank, since the offices are all for non-profits. Wouldn’t be a lot of reason to barge in there, they figure.”

            “Yeah. Suppose so.”

            She continues to read, finishing the one article and moving onto another, leaving him to think through the silence, a very different kind of silence than the one she afforded him while she was sleeping. Again, questions arise:

            Should I keep quiet and hope that she just doesn’t bring up the story?

            Or should I stay in the conversation and that way seem like I’m just a regular guy asking questions like anyone else would?

            Or, should I just get off at the next stop (wherever that is)?

            But Naomi makes the decision for him. “My papi – oh my God, he had this look on his face when the police came on Saturday night. I had to stand between him and this cop who looked younger than me, poor guy, just kept on saying, ‘We’re gonna need ya ta leave, sir,’ talking like he was from Queens or something, not walking the beat down by East Village south of Market Street . . .”

            And she keeps going – at first Darren isn’t sure what to make of it, but he gives at least the appearance of listening, hoping that she’ll get it all out of her system at once, and then, once they’ve hit New Mexico, he can switch topics.

            “So papi’s out of work until at least next month, ‘cause they have to relocate him to a new building, and it’s been a tough time for janitors in San Diego, anyway. America’s Finest City? Dios mio,” she mutters under her breath.

            Darren laughs at her mention of San Diego’s nickname, a marketing ploy if there ever was one. But he’s also laughing at how he’s leaving that behind – or that idea behind, anyway, of a good place to grow up and get a job and all those things his parents told him over the years. Sure, the nickname was a joke, but what does he have in mind as an alternative? The bus has to stop somewhere.

            “So, pardon me for asking, but you left even after all of that?”

            “Oh, don’t get me started,” she says, but she’s smiling. “I told him, I said, ‘Papi, I’m not leaving til usted y mama are back on your feet, but no no no no no. He wasn’t hearing it. ‘No nina of mine,’ he yelled, ‘stays back and misses out on la universidad.’ That’s my papi.”

            “Wait – you were going to be leaving for Albany today anyway?”

            “Oh yeah. After the big Easter celebration, pack up my backs and head east. You know – get a place, find a job, enroll for some summer courses. That was the plan all along. Of course, the Easter celebration was not quite the same this year.”

            “Still evacuated?”

            “They let us back in in the evening, after we’d gone – my parents, my two hermanos, and me – to mass in our jeans and t-shirts and then went to the buffet. Real classy, y’know? And the whole time, mi madre can barely keep from crying.” She stops, folds up the paper, places it in her bag, and leans back against the window. “And less than twenty-four hours later, I get on a bus and leave them behind.” She shoots Darren a look. “But enough about me. What about you? You got a family, right?”

            This I can handle, he thinks. Anything to avoid talking about this past weekend. “Sure. Mom and dad, younger brother. They live up by the coast. I moved out after high school, though.”

            “Oh, cool. Got your own place then.”

            “Well, had my own place.”

            “Oh, yeah.”

            “But, uh, I don’t really see them too often. Been a few weeks, in fact.”

            “Do they know you’re leaving town?”

            “Nope.” He looks out the window again. The darkening sky hints at rain, maybe even a thunder storm.

            “Really? That’s . . . I mean, won’t they get worried about you?”

            “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. See, they weren’t too worried when I moved out a couple years ago.” He feels his jaw tighten as he recalls those conversations, his insistence to his parents that he could make it on his own, their ignorance of how he planned to pay his bills.

            “Then why’d you stay in San Diego?”

            Good question, he thinks, and he doesn’t have an easy answer for Naomi – just as he didn’t have one for his father, who’d offered to send him to San Diego State, or to one of the local community colleges in the meantime while he figured out what he was interested in, what he wanted to do with himself. “Had some friends still in the area. Had some ideas about getting some work.” And there he realizes he’s opened the door again.

            “What sorta work?” Naomi asks, seemingly as casual as can be.

            “Um, I guess you could call it ‘entrepreneurial efforts,’” he says with a straight face. Will this fly? he wonders.

            “You kidding me? So business? Sales?”

            “Well, like that, but self-employed. I mean, that’s why I wanted out of my parents’, really. Just wanted to do things on my own.”

            “Okay. I think I get it now.”

            “What do you mean you get it?”

            “Well, you were what, 18, 19? You and your buddies wanna sell – geez, I don’t know what you guys wanna sell, but I’ll assume for now it’s something legal.” She laughs for a moment, then continues. “Flash forward a year or two later, and here you are on a bus, ready to take your ‘entrepreneurial efforts’ with you to some other city that you can call home. That about right?”

            He breathes in deeply, thinking that she’s either got the goods on him (and therefore he’s done), or she’s playing around with him (and maybe he’s safe after all). So give up the remaining goods, or play along? “Sure – that’s about right,” he says, smiling along with her.

            After dodging a series of storms, it’s nearly nightfall, and the bus driver calls out, “Dinner stop,” loud and clear, perhaps unaware that he’s only got a couple of customers on this bus. They stand up and stretch and Naomi starts walking off the bus.

            “You coming?”

            Darren pauses, grabs his bag. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

            “What, don’t trust the rest of the riders?” He ignores her question and keeps walking towards the exit.

            Their meal inside this non-descript roadside diner flashes by Darren. He listens closely to the waitresses talk local gossip as if something they have to say might relate to the unsolved case back in San Diego. Naomi, meanwhile, chats up the regulars in the place, seemingly comfortable anywhere she finds herself.

            As they walk back on the bus, she hands him a copy of the local paper, the El PasoTimes. “Welcome to Sun City!” she says with a touch of Texas twang.

            He eases into his seat and takes a quick look at the front page of the paper with the aid of the one streetlight in front of the diner, and sure enough, there it is:

The Associated Press

Monday, April 4, 1983

SAN DIEGO, CA – Police continue to unravel a case that started out as arson, but now includes attempted robbery in a downtown bank. A spokesman for the police refused to speculate on the number of suspects or the specific targets for theft, but indicated their confidence that they are on the right path, having uncovered a few sets of fingerprints and what appears to be some gear left behind by the assailants.

Published in: on August 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And the story takes even more twists and turns! Whatever will happen next?! 🙂

  2. I am puzzled… arson, robbery… and what does Darren have in that envelope? 🙂 You keep me guessing. I do like Naomi, how bubbly she is, how at ease she feels with strangers… It all flows naturally. It was a really good twist about her house being so close to fire. Waiting for more…

    • Thanks for the feedback – my hope is to finish in the next installment.

  3. Woah things are developing! I love how most is revealed through conversation. More please, more!

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      Check out installment three – I posted it on Saturday, 8/20.

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