Glen Pourciau

Weary, claustrophobic, we decide to leave the overcrowded department store that covers three city blocks and has ten levels. We've been up and down escalators and stairs searching for various departments, winding through tangles of people, don't know which door we came in and don't know which street we'll be on when we exit. We see a door that will take us outside, I point to it, my wife nods, and we start toward it with me slightly in the lead, turning sideways amid bustling shoppers. An employee with a box wider than she is barges forward, cutting off everyone in her path. I let her pass, see her bump a woman's arm and purse, but it doesn't slow her down, no apologies, no eye contact, she's on a mission. I take my wife's arm as we push the glass door open, the roar of buses and motorcycles immediately hitting us, everywhere you look masses of people on the sidewalk and crossing streets. The corner we're standing on has three possible streets to follow, all of them loaded with traffic. Which way? my wife asks me. I think the opera house is that way, I answer. Our destination is the bus stop on the west side of the opera house, but the buildings surrounding us block our view of what's ahead. We wait for the light to change and then start across, pedestrians weaving around us in the street, the light flashing red before we make it to the other side. Do you know where we are? my wife asks. I can see what street we're on, I say. We move to the side of a building so I can get some space to unfold the map. This route looks good, I tell her, around the corner to the right, a block and a half. On our way again, trying to hold my wife's arm but difficult to walk two abreast, people pushing by us on both sides, others coming straight toward us as if they don't plan to move aside. A man collides with my shoulder but keeps on his way without hesitation. Watch your purse, I remind my wife, our guidebooks have warned us. Breathers forging ahead in every direction, competing for territory against other shifting obstacles, awareness zoned to maneuvering to any open space, chaos of movement, congestion creeping inside our heads, smell of bodies and breath, flinching at moments of contact. We make gradual progress and turn right at the next corner. I see what I think is the back of the opera house, but I can't yet see the place where I expect our bus stop to be. I'm a little in front of my wife now, my natural pace is faster than hers, and looking back I see she's getting knocked around. I step back to her and take her arm again. Thank you, she says. We'll take this crosswalk on the left, I say, and my wife says, Cross the street with me, don't let go of my arm. A group of us are packed at the corner, obstructing the path of those passing behind us, and some of them lean on our group, causing those in front to tip over the curb. Someone honks, the light changes, and we wait for red-light runners to go by before we cross. I think the bus stop is on the other side of the street to our right, but a line of tour buses is parked all along the curb, blocking our line of sight. As we reach the corner another bus shows up and honks, and we watch while the bus at the rear of the line backs up and drives away and the new bus pulls into the same spot, straddling the crosswalk. We can't tell when our light turns green so we hurry across through a gap in the traffic. The bus stop is where we expect it to be, all seats on the bench are taken, smokers nearby puff and squint into their own clouds. A digital sign says the bus will arrive in twelve minutes. We stand and wait.

Glen Pourciau is the author of INVITE, a winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award.

Read more of his work in the archive.

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