Sunday
Sep092012

Man on the Bus

Simon Fruelund
Translated by K.E. Semmel


 

There's a man on the bus. He's seventy-nine. He wears a dark suit and a pair of newly polished shoes. Pinned to his jacket, over his heart, is a medallion that he earned for his many years of loyal employment with the postal service. His two sons tease him about it. He uses every opportunity, they say.

A young girl boards the bus. She wears platform shoes and a red blouse. She's seventeen years old and an apprentice to a gardener. Today she called in sick. She buys a ticket and sits down in one of the seats in the front.

The bus idles at Aalholm Square.

It's mid-April, but it feels almost like summer.

An older woman with a worried expression boards, and the bus begins to move.

It's just a regular bus. There are thick rubber rims around the windows and flooring in the aisle that resembles dark sandpaper. A sign informs riders that there is room for thirty-one seated and thirty-three standing passengers.

The man who wears the medallion is late. He dozed on his balcony, and time ran away from him. He's on his way to Amalienborg Palace.

The girl with platform shoes has enough time. She's going to visit a friend in Christianshavn. Maybe they'll smoke a little pot, maybe they'll do a little more than that. They've agreed they're only friends.

The woman with the worried expression is not worried. She's only nearsighted. She's on her way to the department store Illum: She's hoping to find a nice shirt for her husband, probably a blue shirt, because blue suits him. If she were asked, she would say they've got a good marriage.

It's Queen Margarethe's birthday, and small flags have been mounted on the front of the bus. A sign informs riders: You Are Not Allowed to Speak to the Driver While Bus is in Motion.

Boarding the bus are a Chinese man in a beige windbreaker, a young guy talking on his cell phone, and a middle-aged woman with red hair.

The woman with red hair sits down opposite the man with the medallion. She's a nurse and has the day off. Though she's a true redhead, in the past five years she has had to augment her color with henna. She looks at the man across from her and feels a little tug at her heart. His white shirt is slightly yellowed, and the cuffs of his jacket are frayed.

The young guy talks in his cell phone. He was trained as a butcher, but he plans to open his own video rental store. He's tired of listening to his boss's surly comments. His girlfriend would rather he stay home tonight, and he tells her that would be fine with him.

The bus driver is fifty-nine. He has driven a bus for nineteen years, and before that he drove an egg truck. Just like the guy in the song he has forgotten his sunglasses, and the spring sun is blinding.

The girl with platform shoes eyes a sign for Herman Bang Square. She read his novel Tine and thought it was sad. She notices a sausage kiosk that's called Sister's Sausage and Burger Bar.

The Chinese man has never read Herman Bang. But he has read H.C. Andersen and Henrik Pontoppidan. He has also read Peter Høeg.

There's no traffic of note. The bus crosses Langgade Station and approaches the old district of Valby. There's The Auto Corner, Valby Radio, and Valby Cheese Cellar.

The redhead can hear the girl with platform shoes chewing bubble gum. It's as if everything about them is noisy at that age, she thinks. She has a daughter of her own who recently moved away from home, and a son who will be leaving home in another year.

It's warm, and the Chinese man is happy that he is not sitting on the sunny side of the bus.

They pass a café where people are sitting on the patio.

It is so lovely that spring has come, the woman with the worried expression thinks.

The man with the medallion thinks: Doesn't anyone work anymore?

The girl with platform shoes sees a guy with a ponytail. She thinks he's handsome.

The bus driver talked with his wife earlier in the day. She said that the new garden furniture had arrived and now they're blocking the path to the bike shed. It's not that he doesn't want to assemble them, it's just that he's feeling a little heavy. With all the light, he thinks, it's hard to keep up.

The young man with the cell phone exits the bus. He has turned off his phone and jammed it in his pocket.

The Chinese man sees a huge billboard on the end of a building. "Trust yourself," it reads, "read Dianetics." He himself was raised to believe in Chairman Mao, and it's been a long time since he's stopped believing in him. Now he's employed at Carlsberg brewery.

An elderly woman wearing a small silver brooch and a young man with a beard board the bus.

The young man with a beard is twenty-three years old and is studying to become a doctor. He has just broken up with a girl who attends the teacher's college. When he kissed her, she tasted of sour milk. In a way it's a shame, he thinks. If only he could've said something to her.

The bus stops at Søndermarken, and a woman with two children get on. She lets the eldest of the children, a boy, stamp the ticket, and they sit down in the long seat right behind the driver.

Some of the trees around Søndermarken have begun to blossom.

It is lovely, the girl with platform shoes thinks.

The elderly woman with the silver brooch observes the two children. Their feet dangle to the rhythm of the bus's jouncing. She thinks about her own daughter, who has plans to adopt. One night, recently, she'd dreamed the yard was filled with Chinese children. Her daughter was happy, but she couldn't stop thinking: We don't have enough food for all of them.

The woman with two children is forty-one years old. Her husband is a computer programmer, and she's a teacher on maternity leave. The three-year-old daughter is very restless. They stayed too long at the gorillas' cage at the zoo, and now they're tired.

The girl with platform shoes recalls an evening a few weeks earlier when she'd babysat for a friend. It'd been a nightmare: the baby was only four months old and had cried for a whole hour.

The bus turns down Vesterbrogade.

There's the Willow Café on the corner, the post office, and the karate accessory store.

A man with a turquoise shirt boards the bus. On the back of his shirt is an image from a tropical island: Meet me here, it says, in English. He's played backgammon with his son most of the day. They'd sat on his son's roof terrace near Carlsberg brewery, and it was one of the days it smelled of hops.

The woman with the worried expression thinks he looks familiar. Maybe he is a musician? But it's possible she'd just seen him on the street. He isn't handsome enough to be an actor, she thinks.

The bus driver follows the flow of traffic without thinking about it. He opens the doors and closes them again. He stops at a red light and keeps an eye out for bicyclists.

The man with the medallion thinks about his eldest son. The son gave him a used computer and suggested he write his memoirs.

—Why? he'd asked.

—For the sake of your grandchildren, the son had said, for posterity.

The man with the medallion thinks it's horrible to be old, and all that led up to now he'd rather leave back in the past. His grandchildren will figure it all out for themselves, he thinks.

The little girl has begun to crawl to the floor. Her brother grabs her, and she begins to cry. The mother picks her up and tries to console her.

—We're almost home, she says.

She unbuttons her shirt and places the child at her breast.

The bus stops at Enghavevej, and a Turkish girl boards. She's just begun as an apprentice at a travel agency, and she's now on her way home to her family. She's got to change buses at Raadhuspladsen. She has two brothers. One of them is a first year student at Østre Borgerdyd high school, and the other is in the military.

The man in the turquoise shirt looks out the window and thinks about his son. It's possible he's a sore loser, but if that's the case, his son is a sore winner. Winning makes him so goddamn giddy.

The young man with the beard hears a strange sound and glances around. It sounds like someone chewing.

The woman with the silver brooch doesn't hear anything.

The Turkish girl has also noticed the sound.

The woman with the worried expression eyes the man in the turquoise shirt. Now she recognizes him: he looks like the Swedish bank robber Clark Olofsson!

A black man boards the bus. He sits beside the woman with the silver brooch and smiles at her. She shifts a little. He's a farmer's apprentice, from Zimbabwe. He's homesick. It's not that he has anything against Denmark; he just thinks it's too cold here. Even during the summer he walks around half-freezing. It's a bit like having a fever.

The young guy still cannot localize the chewing sound and feels a little uncomfortable.

The Turkish girl thinks about something else.

The girl with the platform shoes looks at the Zimbabwean. Her father would have a cow, she thinks.

The man in the turquoise shirt sees the front page of the day's newspaper enlarged on a sandwich board. It shows a picture of the queen. He's not into the royal family, but he's got nothing against Queen Margrethe.

The bus stops at Vesterbro Torv.

The woman with the silver brooch looks at Amorin: Her husband once rented a tuxedo there.

The man with the medallion hasn't registered the sound, his hearing not being what it used to be, but he sees that the little girl lies close to her mother. He can make out her breast and wonders why she's breastfeeding a child so old.

The Turkish girl thinks about her new boss. He smiles a whole lot, and recently he'd said that he was very happy to have her around. When she gets a raise, she would like to have her own place.

The young man with the beard leaves the bus. He's going to visit one of his study buddies who lives on Istedgade.

The man with the turqoise shirt also steps from the bus.

The bus has reached the Central Station.

The woman with the two children notices that her daughter is falling asleep. It's pleasant enough, but that also means that she'll have to carry her home. The boy is behaving himself.

The woman with the worried expression sees the bus driver's face in the mirror. It looks as if he's sweating. She's glad she's not a bus driver. She and her husband often talk about the things they are thankful for. He's happy he's not an ambulance driver, and she's happy she's not a nurse.

 

The Turkish girl and the woman with the silver brooch get off the bus at Raadhuspladsen.

A young man with red hair, a teenager with chubby arms, and an elderly man using a cane climb aboard, and the bus lurches forward.

The redhead wants to be a writer. One publisher's rejection letter indicated that he had talent. He has gotten several referrals to a psychiatrist. Each time they've suggested he take Prozac and each time he'd declined.

The girl with the chubby arms sees one of her girlfriends. She's walking with a guy on Vester Voldgade. It must be him, the architect she has been telling her about. Unfortunately they're too far away for her to get a real impression of him.

The elderly man with the cane thinks that spring is a nice time of the year. He's a widower and on his way to see one of his wife's friends. She makes him dinner and lives in a big apartment behind the Royal Theater. It's not something they advertize; they don't want people to start talking.

The bus turns up Stormgade, and the woman with two children pushes the stop button. With her daughter in her arms she walks to the middle exit, and the boy follows.

The man with the medallion has not been with anyone since his wife died. He's got nothing against the thought, but there's no one who's offered herself.

The Zimbabwean thinks the girl with the chubby arms is pretty. The girls he meets are usually redheads or fat or both.

The girl with the chubby arms sings gospel. She does so mostly because she likes the music; she's not especially attracted to black men. She isn't sure whether she believes in God, but when she sings, it sometimes feels like she does.

The bus stops at Ridebanen, and the woman and her two children get off.

A blond woman wearing a skirt gets on. She works in a bank and has gotten off early. She's forty-nine, and her husband is a carpenter. On a spring day like this she thinks it isn't so bad.

The bus driver thinks about his father, who was also a bus driver, and who climbed high up the Union's ladder. When he died, Anker Jørgensen himself sent a bouquet of roses with his personal condolences.

The girl with platform shoes is motion sick and wants to get off the bus. She's not sure she wants to smoke pot now, but maybe that will change. She's decided that she'll have to try sleeping with a black man.

The bus passes Thorvaldsens Museum and stops in front of Christiansborg.

The woman with the worried expression and the girl with platform shoes get off.

A man in a gray suit and a young man with a Beatles hairdo get on the bus.

The man in the gray suit is a lawyer. He sits in one of the front seats and sets his briefcase on his lap. Inside are two rolls of toilet tissue that he's stolen from his office. When his colleagues are at lunch, he lets himself into the supply closet and grabs two rolls on the shelf to the right of the door. He clears a space for them in his briefcase beforehand.

The young man with the Beatles hairdo is on his way to a bachelor party that is not his own. Thank God, he thinks, and glances at the girl with the chubby arms. That will happen soon enough. He's a web designer and makes as much as his parents, combined.

The redheaded guy who wants to be a writer has never been to a bachelor party. Nor has he been to a wedding. Funerals, though, he's been to a few, and he likes those. There's something about that somber atmosphere.

The girl with chubby arms looks at Holmen's Church. Her boyfriend, who is a psychologist, plays the viola, and he once gave a concert there with his quartet. It's been a few years now. He was still with that violinist, and she was dating her teacher in the art department.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter forgot to go to the bathroom before she left the bank. She'll try to hold it, but it's not gotten any easier with age.

A man with a long cylinder gets on the bus. He sits down beside the woman whose husband is a carpenter, and sets the cylinder between his feet.

The man with the medallion has never seen such a thing before.

Nor has the elderly man with the cane.

The girl with the chubby arms knows that it's a musical instrument the Aborigines in Australia play. She also knows that it requires a special technique to play it: you breathe air in through your nose and blow it out through your mouth.

Traffic is packed, and the bus moves very slowly toward Kongens Nytorv.

The man with the cylinder is forty years old. He studied philosophy, but never finished his degree. The pipe is a didgeridoo that he was given by a good friend who picked it up in Australia.

—Eucalyptus tree, he'd said and rapped on the instrument with a knuckle.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter wishes he would take up less space. He should have taken the train, she thinks, and not brought that thing with him on the bus. The train has room for that kind of thing.

The bus driver thinks about his brother who is married to a Swiss woman and lives in Lausanne. They talk on the telephone every now and then. They talk about what their children are doing, about the weather, what things cost. The bus driver's wife says that his brother drinks too much, and the driver is inclined to agree.

The man with the medallion glances at his watch.

The bus stops in front of the Royal Theater.

The elderly man with the cane and the girl with the chubby arms get off.

A young girl boards.

A middle-aged man with a pageboy also boards.

The bus pushes on.

The young girl is wearing a T-shirt that reads Somebody Loves me in California. There are small hearts emblazoned on the shirt. She's overweight.

The man with the pageboy is on his way home from work; he teaches physics at a high school. The chubby girl, he thinks, has nice tits. His wife is a yoga instructor and makes a hundred and fifty kroner an hour under the table.

The man with the didgeridoo doesn't notice the chubby girl's breasts.

Neither does the African.

Traffic slows to a crawl.

The man with the medallion pushes the stop button.

The physics teacher catches sight of a white curtain fluttering in a window. He thinks about late afternoons during his college years, certain situations, girls. He thinks about a tiger hunt he'd seen on television. A group of men had carried a long strip of white cloth between them and encircled the tiger. It didn't attack; tigers don't like white.

The Zimbabwean stares out the window. On the sidewalk there are children with the Danish flag in their hands and adults with small children in their arms. There is music coming from somewhere, it sounds like military music. Maybe it's some kind of parade, he thinks.

The bus stops just after the Odd Fellows Mansion, and the man with the medallion leaves the bus.

A woman with gold sandals gets on. She sits in the empty seat beside the chubby girl, and they start chatting. They talk about the weather, and about how great it is now that the days are getting longer, and they hope the good weather continues right into the summer.

The bus barely moves.

The lawyer wonders why and looks at his watch. It's a little past three. He drums his fingers on his briefcase. He believes he knows the melody, but can't remember the name of the tune.

That's it, the fat girl remembers; it's the queen's birthday.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter regrets that she didn't walk to Nørreport Station. Her bladder feels like it's about to burst.

The man with the didgeridoo is in no hurry.

The redheaded guy who wants to be a writer sees a small green sports car. Two girls sit inside. They have long blond hair and look as if they might be famous.

The physics teacher pulls an issue of the Scientific American from his briefcase. He starts to read an article about Mars. The temperature is really low, it says. The highest daytime temperature is minus ten degrees, and the temperature varies radically, depending on the height. He knows very well that it's the queen's birthday, but he's not particularly interested. He thinks it's comical to imagine that if the queen stood on Mars, her nose would be 20 degrees colder than her toes.

The bus passes Amalienborg Palace at a snail's pace, and the young man with the Beatles hairdo sees Queen Margarethe and Prince Henrik in the middle of the sea of people. They are sitting in an open carriage, and the queen is wearing a green dress.

The woman with gold sandals also sees the queen and the prince.

—Look, she says to the chubby girl.

The Zimbabwean sees a huge crowd of people, but he doesn't see the royal couple.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter does. It startles her, and she can feel something warm spilling between her legs.

The lawyer feels goosebumps on his arms. It's almost the same feeling as when he sees film of the moon landing or the murder of John F. Kennedy.

The bus driver keeps his eye on the road. With all those people you never know when someone might suddenly run in front of the bus.

The man with the didgeridoo observes a semi truck with chickens from a slaughterhouse in Jutland. He has seen the queen before and isn't particularly interested in the Royal Family. He hasn't eaten meat in fifteen years.

The woman with gold sandals looks forward to calling her sister. The sister is married to a doctor, and they have three children.

The young man with the Beatles hairdo feels oddly moved.

The chubby girl knows that she won't forget the sight of the open carriage anytime soon. The green dress, the four horses, and the finely cut carriage in the middle of the crowd of people reminds her of something she's only seen on television.

The woman with gold sandals thinks about her brother-in-law. Once in the summer cabin he'd commented on her bathing suit. He'd laid a hand on one of her breasts and lifted it a bit. He'd done the same thing with her other breast.

—They're nice, he'd said and lumbered over to the refrigerator to get something to drink.

The young man with the Beatles hairdo gets up.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter thinks he looks terrible. If they ever talked, she'd tell him a person should do something for himself. You can't just expect everything to fall into your lap.

The bus stops by Kastellet, and he gets off.

The physics teacher puts down his magazine. He notices that some of the trees are ready to bloom. It's early this year. It's been a bright spring, that's what it's all about, he knows, even among humans. He has read somewhere that the invention of electric light caused the average age of puberty to fall. He casts a glance at the chubby girl and stands up.

The chubby girl doesn't notice him.  She goes to high school, but another school than the one he teaches at. Her chemistry teacher is one of his college buddies. If they talked, they'd quickly figure that out. How small the world is, they might say.

 

The bus stops at Østerport, and the physics teacher gets off.

An American couple gets on. They find a seat where they can sit together. He's an engineer, and she's a housewife. They were at Amalienborg at noon when the Queen came onto the balcony. She thinks the Queen is a courageous woman, and he thinks she ought to stop smoking. He's been operated on twice for cancer and doesn't think it's anything you should take lightly.

It bothers the driver when he's behind schedule. He knows it's not his fault, but the people waiting don't know that. So he tries to regain some of that lost time.

The woman whose husband is a carpenter pushes the stop button, and the man with the didgeridoo gets up to make room. She leaves behind a little damp stain.

—There it is, the American man says when the bus passes by the American embassy.

The man with the didgeridoo sits again. He doesn't notice the stain. He thinks about an old study buddy who argues that the Internet is the way to a new type of Democracy and the greatest possible happiness for everyone. He doesn't know whether or not he looks forward to that. For him happiness is a low, kind of odd, rumbling noise that goes on and on.

The woman with the gold sandals sees the driver's face in the mirror. He doesn't look well, she thinks, and pushes away the thought. It's really nice weather. There's a lot to look at. She sees the lawyer sitting with his briefcase on his lap. There's something about his neck, she thinks.

A bald man boards the bus. He is fifty-three and has a postcard in his pocket. The postcard is from his nephew whom no one has heard from in half a year. It says that he's married to a Columbian woman, and that they're very happy. The bald man is on his way out to his sister's to show her the card.

The bus passes Sortedamssøen. On the right there's a café called Amokka, and a realtor  called Livingstones.

The African keeps his thoughts to himself.

The lawyer catches sight of a girl who resembles his eldest daughter. The daughter won't see him, and she won't say why.

—It's just a phase, his estranged wife says. The whole thing is so hard on her.
The last time his daughter visited she complained about a newspaper clipping he keeps hanging over his toilet. It's about a high school student from Aalborg by the name of Jakob Gjerrild. The article is accompanied by a photograph where he's standing on the far edge of Grenen in Skagen. It says that he will sail to Norway in his Kayak. When the lawyer pees, he often looks at the white stripe of foam where the two seas meet and at the skinny student. Everyone has a weak spot, he thinks, then flushes and listens to the water.

The man with the didgeridoo pushes the button and gets up.

The chubby girl knows that the cylinder he's got is a musical instrument, but she can't remember what it's called. She's seen it on Strøget, and she's seen it on a Discovery channel program about Australia. Something with dubidu, she thinks.

The African also gets up.

The American woman smiles at him.

How do you do, her husband says.

The Zimbabwean nods, but doesn't respond. The American couple is on vacation in Denmark. They've never been to Europe before. Their son works for IBM in Copenhagen, and he's booked them into the Skovshoved Hotel.

The African and the man with the didgeridoo get off at The Triangle.

A woman with a baby carriage gets on. She climbs in through the center door, sets the brakes on the carriage, and goes up to the driver to punch her ticket.

The bald man looks at the boy that's propped up in the carriage. He looks bright. He has a fine fuzz of smoke-colored hair and a pair of big, nicely shaped ears.

The woman with the baby carriage has two children in addition to this one. She's happy they are all with the same man, though she's not always happy with him. He's forty-two and a schoolteacher. It doesn't pay especially well, and then there are those long summer holidays.

The woman with gold sandals smiles at the chubby girl and gets up. The bus stops across the street from Brumleby, and she gets off. If she and the lawyer had conversed, they might have talked about food.

—I love Italian food, she would have said.

—Italian is wonderful, he would have responded.

—And French.

She would have told him about a trip she took to Provence and about a vintner she got to know.

—It's really pretty in Provence, he would have said.

A young man with small rectangular glasses gets on the bus. He's on his way to his girlfriend's place. She studies biology just like him. They've known each other for three months, and they've recently agreed to call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. They haven't seen each other for two days.

The lawyer gets up and walks to the center door.

The chubby girl thinks about her father, who is ill, and about her sister in California. Every now and then she misses her sister. She lives in a house near the Pacific Ocean. They have four cars and a gardener who comes once a week. In the front yard there are three bushes that are trimmed to resemble dolphins, one large and two small.

The bus passes Østerbro Stadium and stops just beyond it.

The American man sees a McDonald's. It's all the bad stuff that gets exported, he thinks.

The bus driver has a pain in his left arm. He's had the same pain on and off lately.

The bald man thinks about his nephew who was recently married. The postcard was sent from Rio de Janeiro, and it shows a picture from Mardi Gras. A Brazilian woman he met once at a conference told him that Mardi Gras is the time of year when there are the most murders.

The woman with the baby carriage looks at her son. He sits completely still and watches people in the bus. There's something frightening about the fact that he's so calm. He almost never cries. Once in a while she gets the feeling that he sees right through her.

The young man with rectangular glasses does not want children anytime soon. His new girlfriend also does not seem to mind putting it off for a while.

The redhead who wants to be a writer doesn't have a girlfriend, but he thinks he might be ready for one.

The bus stops at Jagtvej, and two sisters get on. They are on their way home from school. One girl is ten, and the other is thirteen. They show their bus card and sit on the long seat right behind the driver.

Look at those girls, the American woman says.

The bald man sees a sandwich board with a photograph of the queen.

—It's about time we got a republic, he tells his sister each time one of the princes messes up.

The bus stops at a red light.

The bus driver can't lift his arm.

The chubby girl catches sight of an old classmate who looks exactly the same. Recently she'd met another person from the same class. They talked about how strange it was that two years could pass so quickly, and that maybe they should get together sometime.

A car honks, and the young guy with rectangular glasses glances out the front window. The light is green.

The American couple discuss how nice it'll be to take an afternoon nap.

The woman with the baby carriage adjusts her son's blanket.

There's another honk.

The young man with rectangular glasses can see that the driver has sunken over the wheel, and he gets up.

The two sisters let their feet dangle and remain silent.

The bald man thinks about the Brazilian woman he met at the conference.

The man with rectangular glasses shakes the driver gently. There's no response. He turns and looks around the bus for help. The American man is on his way up to him. The man with rectangular glasses reaches down and turns the key in the ignition, shutting off the bus.

The bus driver is in another world.

The American steps into the little enclosure where the bus driver sits, and he puts two fingers against the driver's neck. He can't feel a pulse. Does it ever stop? he thinks.

Give me a hand, will you? he says to the young man beside him.

They lift the driver out of his seat and settle him on the floor. The American squats and begins mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. With two fingers he clamps the driver's nostrils shut.

—Who has a cell phone? the young man with rectangular glasses says. He can hear his voice cracking.

The redhead who wants to be a writer knows very well that he doesn't have a cell phone, but he pats his pockets searching for one anyway.

The woman with the baby carriage opens the diaper bag she keeps under the carriage. She finds her cell phone.

Her son looks up excitedly. She calls 911, and while she waits to talk with a live person, she looks at him. It's a little embarrassing. He's always been crazy about telephones.

The bus driver is sitting in a car. There's almost no traffic, and the landscape is sliding past. He's approaching a town with a small white church. He's the one driving the car, but he's not doing anything.

—Is there something I can do? the chubby girl says.

The young man with rectangular glasses sits down behind the wheel and tries to figure out how to open the bus doors. He punches a few buttons without any luck.

The bald man doesn't know quite what he should do with himself. He's often thought he should take a First-Aid course, but the older he got, the more pointless it seemed.

The two sisters huddle together. They look at the driver lying right below them. He's old, the eldest one thinks. He must be sick, the younger one thinks.

The American gives him heart massage.

His wife looks on worriedly. She's mostly concerned about her husband. He shouldn't be straining himself. Why not let the younger people take care of it? After all, it's their country. Her husband has been in two wars and has managed to survive all kinds of things. She thinks it's time to let others take over.

A car honks behind the bus. The bald man stands.

The bus driver is passing the town with the white church. To the left is a fjord and to the right fields and woods. He catches sight of a low bridge with three arches. Something about it looks familiar to him. He can see a few tiny shapes standing on it and thinks they must be fishing.

The woman with the baby carriage has spoken with the operator at 911. She has explained where they are and what has happened.

The bald man breaks the seal on the little rectangular box that reads "Emergency Exit" and pushes the red lever to the right. The backdoor opens and he climbs out. He starts directing traffic.

The American woman sees the two sisters and stands. She reaches for the youngest girl and without hesitation the girl slides from the seat. The elder sister follows hesitantly after.

The chubby girl feels the tears on her cheeks. She thinks about her mother who died the year before, and about her father who's in poor health.

The redhead who wants to be a writer stares at the driver's feet, wondering how it's possible to drive a bus wearing wooden clogs.

The bus driver maneuvers onto the bridge with the three arches. Fifteen to twenty men are fishing along the railing. A thin little man seizes his attention: It looks like his uncle. The bus driver stops the car in the middle of the bridge and rolls down the window.

—Look who's here, the little man says to the others.

The bus driver then sees his grandfather, another uncle, and his father. He gets out of the car.

The elder of the two girls can't help look at the bus driver. She's learned some English at school, but doesn't feel like talking with the American woman.

The young man with rectangular glasses has managed to open the front door. He squeezes past the driver and up to the woman with the baby carriage.

—Did you talk to them? he asks.

The woman nods.

He breaks the seal on a little box and opens the middle doors.

The woman with the baby carriage looks at the American woman.

The American man notices that he's begun to sweat and looks around for someone who can help. He sees the redhead who wants to be a writer.

You, he says.

The American woman leads the two sisters out of the bus.

The woman with the baby carriage follows. The young guy with rectangular glasses helps her with the carriage.

—This is how it's done, the uncle says.

He lifts a squirming nightcrawler from his little bucket and wraps it around his hook. The bus driver carefully lowers his hand in the bucket and grabs one. He pinches it, and the worm wiggles between his fingers. His grandfather stands back a little and smiles encouragingly at him.

The redhead who wants to be a writer drops to his knees. He places his mouth over the driver's. The driver smells of sweat and coffee.

They should be here soon, the chubby girl thinks. She gets off the bus.

A small crowd has gathered: an elderly man in a jogging suit, a few schoolchildren, and a young woman with rumpled black hair.

The traffic presses past in the outer lane.

They can hear a siren at a distance.

—You've got to keep your eye on the bobber, the uncle says. It happens just like that.

The driver watches the red bobber top. Suddenly there's movement, and his grandfather's rod arcs upward. The old man grips his rod with both hands, yanks and reels his catch, until the line goes limp.
—Argh, he says.

The other men watch their bobbers.
—It happens every time, the uncle says softly.

A bus halts directly behind them.

The redhead who wants to be a writer gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while the American gives heart massage.

Good work, the American man says. Keep going.

The American woman has pulled a bar of chocolate from her purse, and she breaks off a couple chunks and hands them to the two sisters.

The woman with the baby carriage looks at her son. He seems pleased.

The siren is close.

The driver from the other bus climbs into the bus. He snaps on the emergency blinkers and glances around.

A police cruiser arrives. One officer starts directing traffic, while the other exchanges a few words with the American.

The bus driver feels a jump in the line. The bobber has gone under, and the rod bends crazily.
—Haul 'im in! the uncle says.

A long and spike-nosed fish with a green back comes into view.

—Boo, shouts the driver's redheaded cousin.

They all boo, even his father and grandfather.

—Don't worry about them, the uncle says. It's because they never catch any fish.

The youngest of the sisters holds the American woman's hand. She doesn't understand what the woman says, but she likes how she smells.

The young man with rectangular glasses talks with the driver of the second bus. Some of the passengers from his bus have gotten off, but most remain seated, patiently waiting.

An ambulance arrives and stops right in front of the bus.

The woman with the baby carriage has begun to walk away. She doesn't like it that people stand there watching. Either you should do something, she thinks, or you should stay out of the way. You shouldn't wallow in others' misfortune.

A small red car drives up and stops in the center of the bridge. The fish is rolled into a newspaper. The bus driver tucks it under his arm and is pushed toward the waiting car.

—Get in, says the woman behind the wheel.

In the backseat two young girls sit giggling.

—Shh, the woman says angrily.  You don't remember me, do you? she says to the bus driver.

It's his aunt.

A doctor and two medics board the bus, each with a medical kit in his hand.

The American and the redhead who wants to be a writer step back a few feet.

One of the medics places a three-sided black mask bound to a black bag on the bus driver's face. He pushes on the bag as the other medic massages the bus driver's heart.

The doctor clamps three electrodes on the bus driver's breast. He lifts a long, transparent tube and a shiny instrument out of his kit.

One of the medics removes the mask, and the doctor puts the instrument's blade and then the tube in the bus driver's mouth and clips the black bag to the transparent tube.

—We've got a weak pulse, he says. We'll wait a second.

The aunt stops the car near a little timber-frame house. They get out and go into the forest. The bus driver still has the fish under his arm. The girls walk a little ahead and talk quietly to each other. The forest thins, and in front of them appears a tall, grass-topped hill. The aunt points at a gnarled tree that stands at the top of the hill. She walks up the hill, and the bus driver follows her.

The American steps from the bus and walks over to his wife, who's with the two sisters.

—Let's hope he makes it, the young man with the rectangular glasses says.

The redhead who wants to be a writer gets off the bus. He stands beside the chubby girl. His lips quiver, and suddenly his body starts to shake all over.

The woman with the baby carriage is long gone.

The bus driver sits down on a little bench in front of the tree and looks out at the landscape. He can see how the fjord narrows to the south, and how to the north it slowly opens out to the sea. Close by there's a little island with a single house, and to the left he can see the bridge. The men are still standing there, it looks like. The girls are rolling down the hill. They are squealing. They're not wearing underpants.

—Aren't they clever? the aunt says.

The bus driver is lifted from the bus and into an ambulance.

The guy with the rectangular glasses looks at the American.

The American thinks: There are some things you can never get used to.

His wife is still holding the youngest girl's hand.

The older girl looks at one of the officers and thinks he's handsome. She thinks he resembles her cousin a bit.

The chubby girl has stopped crying. Maybe he'll make it, she thinks. She watches the ambulance driving away, and reminds herself to buy a newspaper tomorrow.

The aunt and the girls stand at the foot of the hill.

—Come on! they shout. Roll!

The bus driver gets on the ground. At first he needs to propel himself, but after that his body is moving all on its own. The grass smells fresh, and the ground is soft. He can hear the girls and his aunt cheering him on. I'm too old for this kind of fun, he thinks, but as he begins to slow down, he thinks: I'm gonna have to try that one more time.