He walked past every day, peering at the man scowling over the racks and the bent form of the old woman over the register. He heard the Greyhound every afternoon, stopping at the station, knowing no one would board, craning its doors and driving off.
He didn’t notice the Greyhound the first time he came in, only seeing the girl at the counter tilting her head to have a slight glimpse outside and then drawing back sharply as the Greyhound drove away. She would slump against her chair, her mouth downturned and sigh as she looked to the door, spotting him walk in.
He froze. A single movement could ignite a fire; a tiny breath could conjure a storm. All he could do was stay silent, straighten his posture and walk to the back of that shop, where his hand outstretched would reach the cover of Distant Lands.
Although an avid reader, he couldn’t concentrate with her eyes boring into the back of his head. Her physical unattractiveness provided a cloak of invisibility, something he found fascinating. They called her Fat Maz, her appearance as large as that name. She had no one to impress and no one to please. She wore her fat, like he wore black skin. Traits that united their loneliness and reminded the world that they didn’t fit in.
She didn’t hide nor shudder at his presence. She didn’t sneer at the colour of his skin. Habit forced him to look down as she asked,
Home was another place for the man. A small box where he would cower away from a judging world. He unbuttoned his jacket, positioning it in its familiar place in the rickety wardrobe. His polished shoes, made of the finest leather, are the only pair beneath the bed. His satin tie hung neatly on a rusty nail. He lay down, closed his eyes and fell asleep to the sound of the harbour settling in his head.
Rising before the sun, he showered and slicked his thick ivory hair. His black shiny shoes deceiving as they peeked out of his cleaner’s uniform. Each hour worked brought him closer to lunch hour when the old couple would leave and he would conspire with the fat girl in the shop. They never spoke because they understood each other. He was there to read and she was there longing for the Greyhound.
When his limited minutes were over and her eyes would warn him to leave, he would pluck out an anonymous hair and mark his place in the book before exiting the store and feeling the breeze waltz upon his skin. He would button his black jacket against the strong current, hold his chin high and listen to the wind sweeping riveting voices into his head. Then as he started to walk alongside the harbour and into the small alley, the voices disappeared and he was alone again.
‘Yes sir, I’ll clean up that mess’ he thought as his boss sneered, mocking the colour of his skin. He was going to be late and the book was waiting. Fastening his tie as he reached for Distant Lands, his eyes wandered, noticing the old Woman pondering over the National and the angry man monitoring the stacks of magazines, willing him to make a purchase and leave. With a quick glance at Fat Maz, he pulled his jacket tight and walked out, lingering in the soothing breeze and then disappearing into the long stretch of the harbour.
He woke early and polished his shoes with pride. He buttoned his jacket, buckled his pants and pulled his satin tie to his collar. He shut the empty wardrobe, pulled the sheet over his bed and closed his door for the last time, his life fitting into the small circumference of a suitcase. He felt the blood pumping through his veins as he walked up to his boss and told him he would never return again. Leaving with a jump in his step, he entered the newsagency where his outstretched hand grasped the cover of, distant lands.
Reading the final page, a smile plastered upon his face as he shut the book, returned it to the shelf and walked to the register where Fat Maz retired.
“Thank you,” he said, “and this is for the bus.” He pasted a fifty dollar note into her hand before uttering ‘goodbye.’
As he turned his collar against the harbour wind and went on his way, he wished the fat girl would catch the Greyhound and explore a life beyond the confines of a register. And as he walked along the stretch of the harbour, he couldn’t help but smile as he thought about his own Distant land.
Author Notes: Please review!