The bus lumbered along the road. At every hour or so, the driver smashed the pedal to the floor, screeching the brakes. The doors slammed open, and passengers swarmed the vehicle like fleas to a bloodhound in June. Before everyone sat down, the doors crashed together and the bus resumed its journey with a lurch, jolting and jostling its fares.
“Are you okay?” She asked as the man rubbed his head.
“Maybe…for the moment, anyway,” he replied, checking his hand for blood. “I don’t seem to be bleeding.”
The man and woman had nothing more to say to one another. She looked out the window, but there was only darkness. The passengers spoke in whispers, if at all. There was no ventilation except when the doors slivered to allow people to board. The bus was sardine-crowded now, but passengers continued to climb onboard: never departing.
The air was spicy with sweat and no toilets.
“Do you know how long…? Her voice trailed off. She picked at the skin around her fingernails and stared at her lap.
He shook his head. “No. “
“But do you think …”
A child’s voice pierced the air: “Mommy! I have to go potty now!” There was rustling, whining, and a― “Shhhh! Honey, I know, I know… Please…For Mommy? Please?” ―before the “potty” manifested and announced its stink. The passengers tried to ignore the odors that bee-stung their eyes and nostrils.
They reminded themselves that the kid had no choice. She couldn’t help it.
None of them could.
The woman removed her glasses; her head bowed in prayer. She held a handkerchief to her nose and mouth as a tear streaked her cheek.
The bus shrieked to a stop and flung open its doors. The vehicle rumbled with impatience as it awaited the crowd to squeeze onboard. Expressions turned from shock to disbelief, and then to panic as the newcomers absorbed their situation.
The man and woman strained their necks toward the door, nostrils struggling, craning for a breath of clean.
Fresh air was too far away. The door slammed and they sunk into their seats, defeated.
The woman sighed. “Thirsty,” she said to nobody; perhaps she spoke to God. “…so thirsty…”
The sun opened its eyes, blinking the stars from the night, as indigo faded to orange and then to pink and yellow.
“Daddy,” A boy pointed out the window. “What’s that sign say?”
His father squinted at the soldiers and the shacks behind them. Bile snaked up his throat as his lips tried to form a response.
He had no words because there were no words.
The bus driver had answered. “Auschwitz.” He grinned.
Now, louder, with a smile and sneer: “That sign says Auschwitz!” The driver’s voice was an air-raid siren:
“Welcome home, Jews!”
The brakes screamed and the bus grinded to a halt.
The ride was over.