Cessily noticed the shiny grommets around the window first, and then grew interested in her own reflection, even more than she was in the passing scenery. She could see her head bobbing in tandem with every bump in the road, listened intently to the bus axles grinding beneath her. The air smelled of starched and pressed cotton and stale cigarettes and hair grease and diesel fuel, a sensorial collision not entirely unpleasant, interrupted now and then only by Cessily’s gathering anxiety. She sat straight as an arrow against the back of her bench, smoothed out her dress across her lap, tugging at her stockings around her knees, and then laid her pocketbook flat across her thighs and drummed her fingers on it, for what good that did to diffuse the tension. She glanced down at the empty spot next to her and took a quick inventory of the two personal effects she had placed there to discourage anyone from sitting next to her—a sack lunch and a neatly folded blue cardigan she knew she would never need in this heat: Why had she burdened herself with it?
The bus was quiet this hour of the morning, save a pair of women cackling back and forth about some absurdity they found amusing, one of them recounting a conversation with dramatic modulation in her throaty voice, and then the two of them exploding in laughter. Cessily felt her gut protesting and wished the women would stop. She tried distracting herself with the massive homes going by outside her window, and the great trees towering over them, and the impossibly wide expanses of groomed, green lawn, almost painted onto the earth below, she thought. As the bus slowed, she felt herself lurch forward a little, and then listened to the tick-tock-tick-tock of its turn signal. Slowly the driver inched through a busy intersection and turned into a neighborhood that still slept, or at least was only just waking. Now she imagined an elegant dining table set in sterling silver and pressed linens, brewing coffee that would soon be dispensed into exquisite china cups, a mantel clock and a mirror behind it framed in gold leaf, and a neatly folded newspaper placed at a gentleman’s elbow. She felt she had observed this scene somewhere before, but could not think where just now. Instead, she wrestled her nerves and felt a bead of sweat coming at her brow.
“You always say ‘yes’m’ when they speak to you.” Cessily heard the words perilously close to her ear and turned to see whose mouth uttered them. A buxom woman sat on the bench behind her, leaning forward. “You hear me girl?” Cessily felt paralyzed, could only stare at her, wide eyed. “I’s talkin’ to you! You know which stop yours? Bus about to stop!” Cessily looked ahead, but this one didn’t look right to her. After several women shuffled forward and stepped off, the doors swung closed and the bus pulled away from the curb. Cessily fished a scrap of paper out of her pocketbook, unfurled it, and held it where the woman could read it. “You’s at my stop, and we next. You follow me, I show you.”
When the bus stopped the woman rose and gestured for Cessily to go in front of her. “Go on na, I ain’t waitin’ all day.” But when Cessily stood, she forgot about her pocketbook, which slipped off her lap, spilling its contents onto the floor in a dissonant burst of coins and other small objects. The little compact her mother had given her slammed into a bolted seat leg and the same instant popped open; Cessily watched helplessly as the tiny mirror inside it exploded into minuscule shards, a perfect metaphor for this moment in her life.