Six times a day I drive the #46 bus up and down International boulevard in East Oakland. Sometimes there are showtime moments like when a fight breaks out, or someone lights up. But most of the time the people sit quietly, staring into nothing. And when I pull in and out of traffic, they sway gently back and forth hoping to catch a good dream that will occupy them until their stop.
When I get a lunch break back at the yard, it’s my turn to dream. The bus is empty then, but the passengers’ dreams hover. Our dreams talk to each other, usually in different languages, but it doesn’t matter. Every dream understands every other dream. Sometimes I swim among the dreams, like a small fish swimming among underwater plants, as they sway back and forth. I see you there. Are you an image or a feeling? I can’t tell, but what matters is that I see you and that maybe you see me. What matters is us. That’s what gets me through the day.
The bus goes by the county hospital. Lots of medical people in one kind of uniform or another get on and off here. A block away there is a school, but it’s been closed for years. Last week, at the vacant lot in front of the school building, the City has built a makeshift morgue. When school was in session, the lot was filled with portables being used for classrooms. It’s still filled with portables, but now there are huge refrigerator engines attached to them. Now instead of students, they are housing dead Covid bodies. I stop at the light and watch the body bags being picked up. Two people per bag hoist each bag on to a gurney then roll the gurney to the correct trailer. They have to maneuver quickly over potholes and broken glass, just like I have to do with the bus. Then they load each body into the trailer. When they shut the door, the light goes off. I’m glad your body is not here. When you got sick, there was still room in the regular places.
Some of the passengers make the sign of the cross on their chests as we drive by this new morgue. I find myself doing it myself sometimes too even though I’m not Catholic. It’s got nothing to do with Jesus, it’s just me saying I am alive, and these bodies are not, and who’s to say what’s going to happen to me the next time the light changes. Crossing myself helps with the shivers that ripple up and down my spine as we pass by. It’s like giving myself a little hug.
“Where do you keep your dead?” the alien bug asks in Men in Black.
“In refrigerated trailers on what used to be the playground of an elementary school that is now closed,” I answer.
Someone in the back pulls the cord. I pull over at the next stop and a lot of people get off and on. I hope they are going to and from the hospital, not the morgue. They aren’t the same yet, are they? I cross myself again and keep going.
At night, when I close my eyes, I’m the fish again, drifting among the plants as they undulate below the surface. The passengers’ dreams have mostly dissipated, but I know I’ll see you if I’m just patient and wait. I rock back and forth like I’m back on the moving bus. Ah, there you are. I’m so glad you’re still here.