Willy woke up early that morning. It was going to be a big day. He looked around the room for his uniform, but couldn’t find it, so he put on the same clothes he had worn yesterday. It didn’t matter, there was bound to be an extra uniform at the station. He poked his head out the door and looked both ways down the hallway. He walked calmly and purposefully through the lobby and out the glass double doors to the portico. He thought he might have heard an alarm going off behind him, but it didn’t worry him.
He walked quickly, for a man of his age, just a little bit of shuffle to his steps, down the front steps and across the portico to where the Medivan was waiting.
“Good morning, Willy,” the driver greeted him, “and how are you today?”
“Just fine, George, just fine. A fine day for a drive.”
“And so it is, Willy, just as you say. And where are we driving today?”
“To the bus depot, George.”
“The bus depot?”
“Yes, the bus depot. It’s going to be a big day. They have a special route for the funeral.”
“Oh, I didn’t know anything about a funeral. Whose funeral is it?”
“Oh, you know. The man himself.”
“No, I don’t know. What’s his name?”
“I never was too good at names, but you know him, I’m sure.”
“’Fraid I don’t.”
“Well, anyway they have a special route for it. No charge. They pick up the family and the out-of-town guests and bring ’em out to the cemetery.”
“And are you going, Willy?”
“Oh, yes. Everyone’s going. It’s a big day.”
Willy put on his seat belt and settled back into the cushioned seat of the air-conditioned Medivan. It was really much more comfortable than unpadded leather seats of the city buses he used to drive, but it wasn’t the same. He looked out the window as the familiar streets rolled by on the way to the bus depot.
The driver dropped him at the front door. Willy waved and waited until the driver pulled away and then walked around to the employees’ entrance at the back. It was a longer walk than he remembered and he was sweating a bit by the time he got there. He nodded politely and smiled at the young woman behind the glass window at the office, but didn’t greet her. He couldn’t seem to remember anyone’s name these days. Moving somewhat more slowly now, he walked down the grubby linoleum tiled hallway and into the men’s locker room and looked around. There was a new padlock on his old locker and he couldn’t seem to get the combination to work, but as he had hoped, there was a spare uniform lying on one of the benches. He slipped out of yesterday’s clothes and into the spare uniform. It was a bit big on him, but he felt better than he had in years. Best of all, there was a set of keys still in the front pocket. He patted them fondly and headed out of the locker room, leaving behind his own clothes for whoever had been kind enough to leave him the uniform.
Feeling ten years younger in his borrowed uniform, he walked back down the hallway and out into the bus yard. Luck was with him and the third bus he tried opened with the keys from his pocket. He opened the door and climbed up the steps to the driver’s seat. He adjusted the mirrors, put the key in the ignition, and started the engine. Smiling cheerfully, he waved to the attendant as he pulled out of the parking lot and set off on his old route.
He pulled up to the first stop and people climbed into the bus. Some of them started to put tickets or money into the reader, but he waved them away.
“No charge today. Special route for the funeral.”
“What?” asked a rather bemused looking matron with an armload of shopping bags.
“I said, ‘No charge today. Special route for the funeral.’”
“You still do the usual stops?”
“Well, alright then.” She headed for the back of the bus and the other passengers followed her.
When he reached the broad four-lane highway that led out to the cemetery, he turned onto it, provoking some yells from the passengers.
“Hey, where’re you going? That’s not the right route.”
“I told you, special route for the funeral.”
As he came to the iron gates of the cemetery, he eased the bus through the narrow entrance meant for cars. The bus rolled slowly through the spacious grounds of the cemetery, passing fields adorned with ornate sculptures and family mausoleums, and then around to a back section with an open grassy space. He stopped the bus and got out. There was no sign of a funeral in progress.
He stood and stared at the grassy field. One by one the people came off of the bus and stood around him in a circle.
“Are you sure this is the right cemetery?” someone asked.
He stood, staring at the rows of headstones and the empty field beyond it awaiting the next burials.
“Looks like a pretty good place to me,” he said.
“Are you sure the funeral was today?” they asked.
He scratched his head in a puzzled way.
“Could be today, could be tomorrow. Hard to say about these things.”
“Whose funeral are we talking about, anyway? You never said.”
“Why the man, himself,” said Willy, “the man himself. And it was a fine day for a drive.”
He staggered a little and then walked back to the bus. He climbed back up the steps and sat down in the driver’s seat. He turned the keys, but the engine wouldn’t seem to catch. There might have been a siren somewhere in the distance, but it didn’t matter. It was a fine day for a drive.
Robert Beech is a practicing psychiatrist and a faculty member of the Yale School of Medicine as well as sometime author of odd bits of fiction.
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