Thank you to everyone who participated in the April Short Story Contest! The winning entry is: The Unexpected Vacation by John Scott John’s entry is based on this visual writing prompt: Please Enjoy The Unexpected Vacation By John Scott Tom and Kathy had met their freshman year of high school. Tom was brilliant beyond his […]
Guest Post: The Night Bus, a Short Story by Zvi Lando
Thank you to everyone who submitted work for the November Short Story Contest. The 1st place featured entry is:
The Night Bus by Zvi Lando
Zvi Lando published his first group of stories in 1967 while in forth grade. 5 years later, he left his home in Kalamazoo Michigan, went on his own to Israel and history was never the same. Living today in Jerusalem he does all sorts of things, but still writes, he hopes, a bit better than he did in fourth grade. During the Corona, he recently finished a novella, Leon de Judea, a fantasy about the Free Jews of the Caribbean and the return of Bnei Yisrael to Israel in the 1600s
Zvi’s entry was based on this writing prompt:
The Night Bus
Dan, Professor of east African tribal culture in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem boarded line 480 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and sat in the fifth row on the right side of the bus. He planned on using this short drive of 50 minutes to go over the disturbing encounter he had at the international African studies conference. Sitting down by the window, he put his right leg over his left, and taking out his notebook and pencil, he put his briefcase on the seat next to him.
If the talk of a colleague, a professor from Italy had taken him by surprise, their private chat later on bothered him to no ends, and he began to look through his notes of the day.
In the meantime, other people were passing though the isle and getting seated. He became so absorbed in his reading that he didn’t hear at first the woman asking him if he could move his case and if she could sit down. Even after he heard her ask a second time and took his case and put it on the floor under him, he didn’t notice that the women sitting down was quite attractive, dressed nicely and smelled good. Without missing a word, he bunched up his eyes and continued his reading.
In the seats in front of them sat two IDF soldiers that were not armed who immediately took out their cellphones and a strange looking pocket computer and bent over them, speaking with one another in Russian.
In the seat behind them on the left side of the bus sat down a tired looking elderly woman who got on the bus by herself and sat down by herself.
In the seat behind her a young man sat down in a huff, looked out the window and impatiently took to touching a pin stuck through his left ear.
The driver looked in the mirror above him to see that everyone had been seated, and then looked to see if there were any more passengers wanting to alight.
Shimon, the driver loved these late-night drives. A hush enveloped the bus, people got on and sat down quietly and usually fell asleep. Smiling to himself, he put in a CD he had burned himself with soft music. The traffic would be minimal, and he could drive with pressure. He took a last look, closed the doors, turned off the inside lights, and bus line 480 began its voyage.
The professor lit the personal lamp above him and continued reading. Looking outside, he could see the reflection of his own face. A headache was beginning and he passed a hand over his forehead. The theory that the Italian had explained was quite interesting, though it conflicted with his own.
As the bus went by the exit to Holon, the two soldiers began to talk in a different, agitated tone.
One of their cellphones rung and was answered in a loud voice. The elderly lady asked them nicely to be quieter. Several passengers nodded in agreement.
‘This generation’, the professor thought, ‘Have no idea what to do with their lives without holding some phone or computer’.
Dalia, the woman sitting next to the professor, looked at him again. She watched his eyes and noticed how they didn’t fully move along with his finger going over the words written in his notebook, the hand he passed from time to time over his forehead, and a slight tremor in his left leg.
She tried to catch his attention, but he was so focused on his notebook that he didn’t notice. The man was a cold as a fish. Her mother told her that her inclination to overstep personal boundaries would get her in trouble one of these days. Perhaps she was right.
If the professor unaware of the efforts of the woman next to him, the elderly woman kitty corner to them was not. ‘These young women’, she thought to herself. They are shameless. They look good and they know it and try their best to exploit this.
Shai, the young man who sat behind the old lady could see her looking at the woman ahead and smirked. Her envy was almost comical. He sat and could not stop himself from playing with the metal pipe in his ear. He loved it. It gave him a dangerous look which he liked. Looking at the old lady, his mouth tightened. She reminded him of his mother, the last thing in the world he wanted to think about.
Igor spoke as quietly as he could into the microphone connected to his cellular headset. He gave Visali one of the earphones, and he held the ETA device and looked on. The two had immigrated to Israel from Latvia just a half year ago and could hardly speak Hebrew. Luckily their officer who Igor was talking to was a Russian immigrant too and could converse with them in Russian.
“… But that was supposed to happen in two days from now!” he yelled whispering into the microphone.
“True”, the officer admitted, “But our agent had no choice. He inserted the virus and we need to activate it with ETA within a half an hour!”
“A half an hour?” he whispered and looked as if he would cry. “We are here with the ETA, but on a bus! We will only arrive in Jerusalem in a half hour – and still we need to get to the center to get access to the INB network!”
The Professor finished reading. The Italian had very strong facts behind her, facts that he had never known. At first, he had played with the idea to dismiss it all and leave the lecture. The conference schedule was hectic and there were other forums he wished to watch. But something kept him in his seat. He asked her a question and her answer shocked him. ‘How could that be?’ he asked himself. His own proofs had once seemed so strong. He again passed a hand over his forehead and felt a quick chill go down his back, and his body shook for a moment.
He looked down at his paper and the printed words seemed to move. Closing his eyes, he thought about the lecture again.
Igor looked at Visali. He didn’t say a word. They both knew that there was nothing to say. Their work for the last year and a half were going down the drain, all because of a bus ride at an inopportune time. Not to mention a huge chance to bring down a security threat to the country.
The calm music the driver was playing bothered him. He was in a panic, and felt like shouting out loud.
All of the sudden, Visali took out his cellphone and began to take it apart.
“What are you doing”, Igor asked.
“I have an idea”, he answered and Igor bent to look at what he was doing.
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The driver hummed softly to himself and looking back at the passengers half asleep, he smiled.
Chaya, the elderly looked over at the women sitting next to the professor. She didn’t like such women. Pretty women who knew it, and they used it to get what they wanted. Her life had been different. Escaping Europe, coming to Israel, raising a family and trying her best to bring them up. Just thinking about all she had been through tired her, and she closed her eyes.
Yigal scowled while looking at the old woman sitting in the row in front of him. He was a late child, his father had passed away when he was just 10 years old. His mother tried to bring him up, but it never worked out. He couldn’t understand or accept how life had failed him so. He was a bad student, and got in trouble, and from there on, things just got worse. He remembered how his mother would arrive at school and try to “talk sense” into him. He would look at her blankly trying to understand what was the connection between this woman who looked more his grandmother than mother and himself.
The bus made the last part of the trip, going up the hills of Judea and Visali continued to sweat. He removed a few wires from his backpack and scrutinized the pieces of his cellphone that he had taken apart. He took the battery and connected a red wire to it.
“Open the ETA from the back”, he whispered to Igor. “Remove the processor carefully and hand it to me.”
He turned the processor over, took from his pocket a band-aid and used a piece he cut off to attach a blue wire to it. When Igor asked him what he was doing, he not only did not answer, he went on working as if he hadn’t heard him at all.
He cut off a it more of the band-aid and with a movement which would have made a brain surgeon proud, secured the blue wire to the cellphone battery.
“You Igor are a programmer. I am a technician. I could explain what I have done, but you wouldn’t understand. Give me your hand”.
He gingerly placed the open ETA on to Igor’s palm and told him like a prayer.
“Start it up”.
The Professor looked at his reflection in the window. It would not be easy. His book, the peak of his academic career would be thrown in the garbage. Even worse, he may have to write a new book which would contradict his first nook. He may lose a lot of support in the university. Even so, he sighed, there was no alternative. In one lecture of two hours, this professor from Italy had torn down years of work, and he had no answer to her proofs.
Knowing what he would have to do was going to be difficult, but he actually felt relief. The face in the window smiled at him. He would call her and tell her. Who knows? Maybe they could work together on this?
The driver slowly brought bus line 480 into the inside parking lot at the Jerusalem bus station, turned on the lights, and opened the doors.
The two soldiers got off and were met by a Lieutenant General in a crisp uniform who surprised the soldiers by hugging them, as if celebrating.
“Excuse me”, the woman said to the professor. “My name is Daliya. Dr. Daliya Sasson.
The professor looked at her for the first time.
“I specialize in Neurological disorders. I am sorry to tell you this, but I must.”
“Yes?”, he asked, now wanting all of the sudden to rush home.
“I have noticed several things about you. Your eye movements, the way your fingers, trying to trace the lines written in your notebook went up and down and not straight. Your obvious head ache and a shiver here and there.”
He smiled, trying to calm her down. “It is just a small head ache, like you said. I feel fine.”
She hesitated a moment. She could stop know, apologize and tell him she had made a mistake. Her mother would have told her to do that.
Instead, she took out her card. “Please”, she said gently. “I have reason to believe it is more than that. If it is what I suspect, it can be simple to cure. Now, that is. If you leave it, it will become dangerous. Please, call me tomorrow and set up an appointment.”
The professor looked at her and took this all in.
“I will call. Thank you for your concern.”
Yigal looked at the old lady, still asleep and sighed. What did he care? Let the old lady sleep the night in the bus! He sighed again and called to her roughly.
“Lady – wake up!”
The woman didn’t react.
Yigal felt his heart drop and bowed over the small frail body and shook her. “Lady – are you ok?”
Chaya opened her eyes and looked at him and smiled.
“I was dreaming the most wonderful dream!” she told him in a voice that reminded him of his mother.
Yigal felt a surprising relief and offered to help her down off the bus.
“I am feeling a bit weak”, she told him, “do you mind helping to get me a taxi?”
He smiled. “No problem”.
“You live here in Jerusalem?” she asked him as he waved to a taxi.
“No. I live in Ramat-Gan. I did. My mother threw me out. I am going to friends here.”
“Threw you out? Whatever for?” She asked.
He showed her the pin in his ear.
She nodded knowingly and put her hand on his arm.
“You know, that is such a little thing, but might be a big thing for your mother. Is it so important to you? The old lady smiled.
He looked at her thinking up a sarcastic reply, but then smiled back.
“You are right. I thought it was, but it isn’t really such a big thing.”
He got her into the car and she patted his arm.
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Previous Winning Stories:
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