• The barred door slides to a close as I step past the yellow line onto the bus. I raise my head slightly and glance over at the bus driver while making my way to the seats further back. The bus driver pays me no mind, his eyes still fixated on the road in front of him. Why should he? After all, I’m just the same as everyone else on the bus: clad in a bright orange jumpsuit, face lined with shame, and off to serve my time for the crime I’ve committed. To him, I’m nothing but a petty felon – mere scum found on the underside of society. I’m not worth a dirty look or a spout of hateful words. If anything, it’s just him making a delivery of goods to the state penitentiary. As soon as the cargo sits down, he can start driving again.

    The bus is lined with rigid brown cushioned seats on both sides, each seat occupied by men in identical orange jumpsuits. My eyes meet with some of them as I walk past seat after seat; many of them turn away from me, but some of them stare back. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the glimpse of a lanky man twitching uncontrollably as his buggy eyes probe through the window bars at the surroundings outside. He holds one hand up to his mouth, chewing off his faded yellow nails with his protruding buckteeth. I can’t help but think of a half-starved hare as I observe him. The seat next to the jittery man is empty. I decide to walk further back.
    While I make my way to the back of the bus, I’m suddenly stopped mid-step as a strong arm pulls me backwards. Alarmed I turn to the perpetrator.

    “Hey, bub, wanna make a bet?”

    I stare incredulously at the balding man holding onto my arm. “…I’m sorry?”

    “You know – a bet. Just a little one to pass the time.” He smiles at me with his tobacco-stained teeth as he reaches in his back pocket for a pack of cards. Clumsily he shuffles the cards (which I note are adorned with pictures of naked women) with one hand, still refusing to let go of my arm. “How’s a little game of blackjack sound to ya?”

    I look up to bus driver at the front of the bus, who continues to stare at the road outside – oblivious to what’s going on behind him.

    “I don’t think that we can really play right at this very moment…um…seeing as I don’t have a place to sit and play with you…” Tentatively, I look around me for a seat, a person – anything to get this persistent convict to let go of me.

    “Oh well then, we’ll just have ol’ Lucky here move!” The bald man lets go of my arm to smack the sleeping figure beside him in the back of the head. “Right, Lucky? You gotta move so we can play some cards.” Lucky’s head merely flops forward, showing no signs of waking.

    “No, no, it’s quite alright!” I back away quickly, seizing my chance to escape. “We’ll just play some other time, seeing as we’ll be in prison together for awhile…” I suggest, not wishing to offend the man who nearly had ripped off my arm. “I’ll…just sit here.” I anchor myself to the stiff seat three rows away.

    As soon as I sit down, the bus lurches forward to a start and I clutch onto the seat in front of me to steady myself. I look up to the front again to the bus driver, his expression unfazed in the rearview mirror.

    I slump back in my seat and press my hands over my face. This is it – this where my life has led me to be: tried, convicted, and locked in a rickety bus full of dangerous and possibly insane criminals.

    “I don’t belong here…” I mutter to myself.

    “You’re not the only one.”

    Alarmed by this sudden reply, I turn beside me to meet the gaze of a young Middle-Eastern man. “What did you say?”

    “I said: you are not the only one who does not belong here.” He repeats to me, his eyes boring into mine. I can hear a slight accent as he speaks. “I am Kadin Al-Razi, a man condemned to a life in prison just because I am Pakistani. They think I am a terrorist because of the color of my skin!” At this point, Kadin grabs me with his hands and gives me a sudden jerk. “They call America ‘the land of opportunity’, but they take my beautiful wife and children away from me to leave them to starve on the street while I am thrown into a dark room and beaten into submission. What kind of justice is that?! What kind of nation woul-”

    “Shut your trap, Al-Razi. Some people are trying sleep over here.”

    Kadin stops mid-sentence and releases me from his death-grip. “What did you say?” He asks menacingly as he glares past me. I turn to face the direction of the voice.
    Across from me sits another orange-clad man, relatively tall and well-built. His hair is cut close to his scalp, his jaw – strong and defined; his entire appearance gives off an air of intimidation, but his eyes say otherwise. Aquamarine with a tint of green, his fixed gaze on Kadin is calm, cool and collected.

    “What I mean is, there are twenty other people on this bus, none of which who want to hear your ranting for the fifteenth time. Besides, don’t you think you’ve scared the poor guy enough? Have some respect.” He reasons.

    Beside me, Kadin is fuming with anger. His dark eyes flash with great loathing as he snarls back his reply. “Respect, you say? Scum like you don’t deserve respect. I, who has been wrongly accused of a crime that I did not commit, should not have to even answer to the likes of you.” Kadin abruptly turns to the window and says no more.

    “Oh not talking anymore, eh? Well that’s fine. It’s better to hold that tongue of yours or you won’t survive a day in prison,” The blue-eyed man replies, unruffled by Kadin’s cruel remarks. Kadin ignores him.

    “Sorry you had to witness that,” the blue-eyed says as he turns to me.

    I shake my head. “No it’s alright. I should have kept my mouth shut, so…” I trail off as I lower my head.

    He smiles at me. “What’s your name?”

    I look up. “What? Oh, my name? …It’s David – David O’Connor.”

    The other man says nothing for a moment, staring at me curiously as if I’m some newly discovered exotic animal. Then he offers me his hand. “The name’s Skid. Nice to meet you.”
    Slowly I reach and grab it. “Same here.”

    The bus jolts forward again as the wheels pave over a bump in the road. This time, I fail to steady myself and stagger forward into the aisle. Thankfully, Skid catches me.

    “Careful now – Dave – you don’t mind me calling you that right?”

    I shake my head as I attempt to sit back in my seat. Suddenly, the bus shakes violently again as it passes over a pothole on the road. I hear an inhumane cackle from the front of the bus.

    “What was that?” I ask almost cautiously.

    “That would be Jenkins, sitting near the front. I’m sure you spotted him when climbed aboard. He’s the jittery one always chewing on his fingernails.” Skid explains casually.
    As I finally secure myself in my seat, my thoughts return to the strange hare-like man with the buggy eyes. “I wonder what he’s in for.” I mumble.

    Skid leans in towards me. “Well from what I hear, he used to be a cashier at some sort of fast food joint (a McDonald’s, probably). Apparently, on his first day, he beat a customer half to death with a cash register when they asked for more sweet & sour sauce.”

    I straighten in my seat in alarm. “A cash register?!”

    Skid nods his head once. “He’s a very shifty character from what I can tell. Just look how he reacted to that pothole just now.”

    I immediately feel relieved over choosing not to sit beside Jenkins.

    I glance slightly over to Kadin Al-Razi, who seems to be bowing his head in prayer. Not wanting to impose, I turn my gaze back to the front. The balding man who had grabbed me earlier catches my eye.

    “You curious to know what he’s in for?”

    I look at Skid, who is staring at me nonchalantly. His aquamarine eyes bore into mine, and I turn away without giving an answer.

    Skid starts talking anyway. “His name’s Mike Miller – a family man with a severe gambling addiction. Apparently, he had left his infant son in the car for five hours while gambled away his week’s earnings in a Vegas casino. Got sentenced to two years in a federal prison for that.”

    “He left his baby son to play blackjack?” I state incredulously. “It’s summertime – with this heat, the poor child could have died.”

    “Hence why he’s in here with the rest of the scum.” Skid replies coolly, casting a momentary glance in Kadin’s direction. “Now what about you, Dave? What are you in for?”

    I lower my head away from Skid’s steady gaze. I can see Kadin shifting in his seat towards me, his hands still together in prayer, but his mouth no longer reciting religious scriptures.

    “…Why do you want to know?” I ask after a moment of hesitation.

    Skid shrugs. “Same reason you wanted to know about Mike Miller over there: curiosity.”
    I crane my head up towards Skid, who is staring at me expectantly.

    “We’re all in the same boat here, Dave, despite what some people may think,” says Skid calmly. I can see Kadin’s form stiffen at his statement. “Telling me what you’re in for won’t change anything and neither will not telling me. So it’s up to you; I don’t really care either way.”

    Skid turns away from me and starts to look to the front of the bus. I let his words sink in as the bus moves closer and closer towards the state penitentiary. Skid was right: it didn’t matter anymore. What was done was done and there was no changing it. So why keep any secrets?

    “My wife was raped and murdered by a man named Benjamin Warren.” I hear myself say out loud. In my peripheral vision, I see many ears leaning towards me, including Kadin, who has stopped praying altogether now. Skid has turned to me again, listening intently.

    “She had been his fifth victim that year. Her body was found in pieces among four others near the lake where I lived. Benjamin Warren was the prime suspect. That’s as much as the police chief would tell me. They never gave me a description or photos of what he looked like – no address either. I was devastated with my wife’s murder and frustrated over the police investigation.”

    “They didn’t find enough proof?” I hear Kadin ask from the side.

    “No – not enough to pin it on Warren,” I pinch the bridge of my nose as I remember the incident. “I knew he had done it. There was no mistaking it. He even moved to a different city to cover his tracks. Benjamin Warren was the man who had murdered my wife among four other women – a serial killer who was walking free. I couldn’t stand it!” I punch the back of the seat in front of me.

    I take in a deep breath and exhale. “I tracked him down. I found out where he lived. I wanted to go up to him and ask him: ‘Why? Why did you kill all those women? Why did you kill my wife?’ That’s what I told myself. But as soon as I stood in front of that house, I just lost it. I took out my handgun (which I had brought for protection) and tried to break through the front door,” I laugh in disbelief at myself. “I yelled, I swore, I shot rounds all over his house.” I started to laugh even harder. “You know what the funny thing was? He wasn’t even home!”
    Kadin edged away from my laughing figure. The other eavesdroppers turned away from hearing distance. Only Skid sat listening, his face expressionless and unchanging.
    “They convicted me of third degree murder – sentenced to eighty years in prison. But you know something? I don’t mind. I did at first, when I got on this bus, but now that I think about it, I don’t.”

    Skid’s gaze on my face never falters. “And why not?”

    I smile at him. “Because they caught the guy. When they searched Warren’s home, they found the proof to incriminate him against his crimes. He was given the death penalty, last I heard.”

    The bus screeches to a halt. I look out the window to see the ominous grey fortress of the state penitentiary, its shadow looming over us. The bus door slides open and in enters a prison guard, baton in hand.

    “Prisoners up single file – quickly and quietly.” The guard orders us sternly before stepping outside once more.

    Not surprisingly, the bus driver sits looking straight ahead of him, ready to drive away as soon as the cargo has been unloaded.

    I see Mike Miller slapping Lucky across the head with his kinky set of cards (although Lucky doesn’t seem to be responding). Farther up, Jenkins has started another fit of maniacal laughter, jittering his way down the bus steps. One by one, the orange-clad convicts step off the bus, ready to serve their time.

    Kadin Al-Razi starts praying again as I step into the aisle. Skid is a few steps ahead of me.
    Curiosity hits me again and I call after him. “Hey, I never got to ask: what are you in for?” I ask him.

    Skid stops in the aisle and slowly turns towards me, with a slight smile playing on his face.

    “I am the enemy you’ve killed, my friend,” He states simply, his aquamarine eyes boring into mine.