The man sat beside her on the bus.
There were other empty seats, but his seat was the one next to hers.
She was looking out the window. Looking intently at something—like a cat.
He sat beside her and judged her.
She was dressed in feathers.
Feathers of all and of every color.
Some were blue, those were on the stomach. There was a little green around the neck and quite a bit of purple at the ankles, some orange on the legs, and black feathers throughout. But most were yellow.
The yellow of a canary that has been squeezed in a fist until it pops.
The bus lurched forward, its axles creaking along the empty road.
He couldn’t stop from peering sideways, watching her watch something. He was not someone adjusted to the strange, if someone can be adjusted to the strange. In his life he had answers for everything. He could tell you why, or how, or what. Having the answer made him happy, it made him feel useful. There was only finite in his world. The universe was finite in its infinity when it was explained to be infinite.
She didn’t appear to be useful. There was a long, fluffy red feather peeking out over her tall, Abraham Lincoln hat. The lone red feather swayed with the movement of the bus.
It moved in harmony with the winding road.
To and fro, to and fro, wait!
now to the side!
to and fro, to and fro.
“Tisn’t polite to stare, you know.” She reproached him without turning her head.
“I’m very sorry miss. I was just admiring your outfit and wondering how did you get all of those feathers to stay in place?” He was delighted that she spoke to him. He wanted to hear her voice again, a voice that would have answers to the questions he had.
Her head swiveled. Two large brown eyes fastened on his.
“If I tell you, you will be caught.”
She was deadly serious.
A smile creeped across his face; she would tell him. He always figured out the answer. He had been concerned the four-hour bus ride would be boring. But this little creature promised to be fascinating.
“Have you been caught?” he asked.
“Yes,” she whispered, turning back to the window.
Farmland plodded through the scenery on the other side of the glass.
“So you see, I cannot tell you, because you will become as unfortunate as me.” She brushed away at an orange feather that tickled her neck.
The movement caused him to notice how very low cut her shirt was, and that led him to notice how very short her skirt was. In fact her clothing was very barely there. If it wasn’t for those feathers…
Downy particles floated up his nose, and he sneezed.
He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and leaned over, his voice low and enticing. “How do you know I will be caught? I’m pretty strong you know.”
He couldn’t know that his grin was more of a leer, or that his voice induced a dismayed shiver rather than a delighted one. He only knew what he knew.
The fluttered response he had expected did not come.
He shrugged and pulled out a newspaper, didn’t matter to him if she was a weirdo, no sir. She was a freak. A freak with fantastic plumage. That was all the answer he needed.
They sat in silence.
An hour passed. He couldn’t stand it anymore, he was bored, and that red feather was still swaying, tantalizing him with its fluffiness.
She couldn’t resist him. He just had to try harder.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
She closed her eyes.
He ignored a spasm flickering across her forehead and persisted. “I’m just trying to be friendly. After all we do have a few hours on this bus to get to know each other.”
“You don’t want to get to know each other.”
“Yes I do!” He grew excited. “Why would I ask if I didn’t want to?”
She named a town, her voice feeble. He recognized the town and eagerly snatched at the connection. “Ah of course, I actually visit there quite often. Do you know so and so, and what’s his face, or that one girl?”
She nodded, plucking a white feather off of the back of the seat in front of her. Specks of feathers floated between them.
Were there more feathers than before?
If it wasn’t unbelievable; he might have believed she was growing feathers.
“Well isn’t this a small world? I’ll be seeing them next week. What’s your name so I can tell them I ran into you?” He was pleased with himself. There was something about her; with those saucy feathers and those ghostly eyes and her resistance to his questions.
“I don’t have a name,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She played with the soft periwinkle feathers on her lap, her cheeks coloring rose.
He deflated away from her. Who doesn’t have a name? Of course she has a name, everyone has a name. She just didn’t want to tell him. What was her problem? He slunk down on his seat and pulled the newspaper up in front of his face. Let the feathered freak be. If she didn’t want to be nice to him, well then it was no skin off of his nose.
The bus rumbled to a halt at a rest stop. The stiff and zonked-out passengers filed off, blinking in the sudden daylight.
She didn’t move from her seat.
Still staring out the window.
He slammed his newspaper down. It did not make a satisfactory angry sound, so he yanked his backpack out of the shelf above the seats and let it hit the back of the seat with a loud thump. She might have flinched, but he couldn’t be sure.
Of course, when he got back on he sat down next to her again. She didn’t react to his huffy drop onto the seat.
She sat amidst her feathers, staring out the window.
Obviously didn’t care about his return.
He wanted to shake her.
The bus roared to life.
This time, he decided, he wasn’t going to be friendly. They were getting closer to his final destination, and he couldn’t leave this situation, this person, without an answer. Imagine telling people this story without an answer? They would scorn him, laugh at him or worse yet, not believe him. They would think he was the freak for making up such a story.
“I think you should tell me your name and why you have so many feathers and where you got them from. I think you are being silly and rude in keeping it from me.”
“C’mon, what’s the worst that can happen?” He thrust his face close to hers, forcing her to look at him. Little beads of sweat accumulated on his forehead. She watched the droplets slide down the side of his face, mesmerized.
“The Spanish Koala happens,” she whispered. So low it was barely words.
Her hand covered her mouth.
Pupils dilated inward.
Feathers sprouted from her elbows.
“The what? Speak up.” His irritation rose, as an itch like a feather tickling the back of his neck. He wiped his sleeve across his face. Why did she have to carry on like this with her feathers and creepy way of talking?
“Please, don’t,” she said. She was unable to look away from him now, her mystery in the window forgotten.
“Tell me what you said.”
“No, I can’t!”
“You already said it once.”
“You will be caught.”
“Don’t be stupid. C’mon just tell me!”
She expelled a breath.
It—that—the answer! hung in front of them, suspended.
Wearily she looked at him, a final entreaty.
He did not budge.
Her face wilted.
“I am chasing the Spanish Koala.”
She released the answer that he thought he wanted/needed into the air.
A chime sounded from the infinite other side and galloped over the hills, racing across the land, bearing down on the worn little bus panting through its winding route.
The answer-that-was-not-an-answer giggled.
He looked past her and her feathers out the window.
The most wonderful creature was out there.
Gray, or silver, or black.
So many colors.
Fuzzy, cuddly, but sleek.
Horrifying yet beautiful, shining.
It spoke to him of all the wondrous, all of the strange, all of the extraordinary.
All of the things without answers.
And it rained feathers; indigo, violet, crimson, ceruse, emerald, ebony, ginger,
Lots and lots of yellow.
The kind of yellow that spills from a torn yolk to caress its fractured eggshell.
Feathers were everywhere.
“What was that?” he asked, spellbound.
Inside his eyes there was absence.
Absence that was finite in its infiniteness.
“Was that the Spanish Koala?”
She lowered her head, her eyes sad. The puffy red feather drooped down.
There was another bus, outside another town, in another place, at another time. It slowed to pick up a small boy and his father. They clambered on board as an adult must clamber onto a bus with a small child in tow. The boy was happy and excited to be going on an adventure with his father. His face was shiny like his shoes, and he was full; bursting with not-yet-questions and not-yet-answers.
The father glanced over the passengers and decidedly took a seat at the front of the bus. He pulled the little boy down next to him.
“But Daddy, I wants to sit in the back,” the boy said.
“Shh, some other time. Today we are going to sit here.” The father sat with his back straight, and with a firm grip on the little boy’s hand. The boy pouted, but he understood from the tone of his father’s voice that there was no amount of pleading or crying that would change his father’s mind.
“Daddy, how long are we going to be on th’bus?”
“A little more than an hour.”
The boy squirmed, kicking the back of the seat with his shiny shoes. However, he was a good little boy, and he settled down as the bus grumbled on. He contented himself with observing;
he looked out the window,
he watched the driver,
he twisted around to peer at the other passengers on the bus.
He remained facing the back for a long time.
“Why is that man in the back of the bus covered in feathers?”
BIO: Mary C. Moore grew up off the grid, deep in the Mendocino National Forest in Northern California. Her passion for reading drew her to writing. She graduated from Mills College, Oakland with a MFA in Creative Writing and English and puts her second degreeto use as a Literary Agent at Kimberley Cameron and Associates. Visit her at marycmoore.com.