The smell of gasoline mixed with cheap men’s cologne and hot sweat fills my nose on the crowded bus. The wind lifted my hair as I stared out the half open window at the crops and trees and pastures of white and black cows that zoom past our Greyhound bus. We pass a shirtless little boy in nasty coveralls standing beside the country road. He simply stops, looks up and stares at us as we leave him standing in his own place. That little boy seems troubled. I wondered as we moved on down the road what that little boys troubles were. I wondered if the little boy would have liked for the bus to have screeched to a stop where he could have gotten on and ran away from whatever his face showed that was bothering him. If he had gotten on the bus alone and the other bus riders leaned into the aisle to see his small overalled frame, I would have wanted to stop him in the aisle and offered some advice. I would have told him ‘son, running away. Leaving on a bus will not get rid of your problems. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but eventually your problems will hunt you down .’
As the bus shifted gears, I turned to look over my shoulder back at him. Odd, he wasn’t even there. I didn’t sleep much last night. That’s what it was. I felt sure.
Resettling myself in the cracked upholstered seat, I glanced over at the old woman in the seat beside me. Sweet looking little church-like lady in a crisp blue dress with white lacey collars and a white purse tucked safely up under her arm. She was eating a pimento and cheese sandwich that she had packed. She was washing it down with a quart of, what appeared to be, cool water that had been wrapped in a brown paper bag and the lid sealed down on the top around the top of the wrinkled brown bag.
I sat there wishing that I had thought ahead to pack myself something to eat.
And, I was wishing that I had listened to the advice that I would have given the worried little boy on the side of the dusty country road.
Arriving in New Orleans later that day, I got off the bus and was immersed by the city. The smells hit me first. I’ve always had a good nose. But I closed my eyes and smelled the seafood cooking, the stale beer and the rain. I’ve been here a few times and every time I am in New Orleans, it rains. Not a downpour, but a steady rain. Maybe, the regular rain is God’s way of cleaning up a city known for its impurities.
Leaving the bus station, I make a quick walk around the corner to my hotel that I usually stay at when I’m here.
I travel light, so I only have one bag to lug around. The lingering food smells in the air, along with the pimento and cheese memory, reminded me that I’m running on empty.
The cafe was on the bottom corner floor of a large business building. It had windows all around and it was brightly lit with suspended white fixtures with glowing white bulbs. The room was splatter with white table cloths on white tables and large hand painted portraits on the walls. The type of place you can see everything that goes on inside; who is in there and what they are eating. It was warm outside, but rainy. It seemed like a good bowl of soup on a white table would hit the spot tonight after a bus ride from Memphis.
It wasn’t difficult to see what was going on in here tonight because the place was empty. As I went in, the door chimes clanked against the door top. Straight away, the waitress came and brought water and a menu. I ordered coffee, strong with heavy cream, because a man never knows when the night could require more of him. I also ordered some gumbo because after all, I was in new Orleans and I was hungry. Chicken noodle soup would have been Memphis.
I was wrong. It wasn’t empty. How could I have missed that? How could I have missed the one woman, sitting alone by herself in the corner of the room. It was almost like she was on display in this glass case.
The very first things I noticed were those bright red and full lips.
To this very day, the snapshot of her sitting alone in a corner booth, smoking a dangerously long cigarette with those amazing lips is still imprinted somewhere in me.
Despite my desire to be with her, I sat alone across the room. I toyed for a moment with just how this game should be played. To stare, maybe wink? To leave and come back? To send glass of…orange juice?..over to her and tell the waitress it’s from me?
Then, something that was greater than myself spoke to me, very loudly inside. Something said ‘Banks, life is short, some things are just worth the gamble.’
Instead I decided to seize the moment, skip all of the dancing and go straight for the punch.
I scooted my chair back on the tile floor, which caused her to look up and at me. I stopped. I stood absolutely frozen in my shoes at the first sight of those two eyes looking at me. I took a deep breath in and then I smiled my sideways smile back at her and reminded myself “I can do this’.
Just as I’m walking up to her table, the waitress with bad timing came out with her cheeseburger and fries and sat it down on white plates that clinked together.
‘You know, I just read an article that said they’re beginning to think that cigarettes are bad for your health’ I said.
With that, she glanced up at me, picked up the cheeseburger, wrapped those two red luscious lips around it, took a small bite and then placed it back down on the white china plate. She chewed for a moment, took a drink from her coffee cup. She took her white linen napkin from her lap, dabbed the sides of her mouth.
‘Tell me, Mr.? I didn’t get your name.’ she said.
I apologetically nodded, offered my hand and replied ‘Banks. My name is Banks Benson’.
She said ‘Ok, Mr.Banks Benson, tell me something. Doesn’t the cheeseburger and fries on my plate not you give the impression that I’m not a woman to worry about a lot of things?’
I laughed and said ‘Good point’. It was going well. I liked this dame. Looks, humor and confidence. All in one tightly wrapped and spectacularly stunning package. This was the kind of package that would look good on my arm back home; the kind of package that Aunt Earnestine might even approve of.
I said, ‘Life is short, and I guess some things are just worth the gamble.’
‘If it’s ok, I would like to know you’re name.’ I said as I glanced down at the cheeseburger bun that had lipstick on it. Was it wrong to envy a cheeseburger bun?
She placed her napkin back in her lap, smoothed it out intentionally with both hands and said ‘Tell me, if I tell you my name, what’s in this for me?’
‘I’ll buy you supper?’ I said.
She laughed and said ‘you know what, I will take you up on that offer. I’ll save my money for a taxi.’
With that, she extended her graceful doll-like hand from her lap and said my name is ‘Devine.
Miss. Eva Devine.’