I knew something was wrong the moment I arrived at the bus stop. Steve wasn’t there and Steve was always there. And was always there before I showed up. I am the bus rider who shows up just before the bus was scheduled to leave with coffee in one hand and make up in the other. If I ever managed to show up early, I usually got a clap from my fellow bus riders.
I remember the day exactly when Steve did not show up to the bus stop. It was June 7, 1998. It was a cool 91 degrees at 7:26 AM and I had made it to the bus with almost seven minutes to spare. I was out of breath from running because I had really wanted to talk to Steve before we got on. I had to ask him about what was happening at his job. He had mentioned something yesterday about he thought he was going to lose his job which meant also his paycheck and insurance. I knew he desperately needed the insurance to help with the medical bills stemming from his wife’s cancer treatment.
As the days passed, Steve didn’t return to the bus and my heart started to sink. As the time passed, my suspicions started to torment me. Had someone hurt Steve for whatever information he was going to share? Did his disappearance have to do with his job? Had he really lost his job? How was his wife? Had she recovered and they were on the vacation of a lifetime? Or had she lost her battle and Steve was grieving alone somewhere? The days turned into weeks with no word from Steve and he slowly slipped to the back of my mind. I was usually still running to catch the bus on time, but no longer looked for him when I got on.
Six months after he disappeared and about the time I finally started to not wonder about him anymore, Steve was sitting in his normal seat on the bus when I got on, huffing and puffing. I stared in disbelief as he smiled at me. Was this real life? Was he really going to sit there and smile like nothing had happened? Like he hadn’t gone missing for six months with no warning?
As I sat next to him, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. I had practiced and thought for months about what I was going to say when he finally returned.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Steve. It’s nice to meet you.”