Wherever we were, we were still six hours from Wyoming. Wherever was six hours before this, we stopped at a bus station. It was still daylight then.
We were loading more people into the bus. One of the bus station employees could be heard outside. His voice sounded like John C. Reilly. I imagined him up there, all enthusiastic and flummoxed. His cheeks would be bobbing up and squeezing his eyes shut. He’d be ushering people up the steps and asking them where they got their shoes.
A tall man climbed up the steps and paused at the front of the long aisle. He was not the bus station employee we had all been listening to. This man’s cheeks had never bobbed once. Nothing about him would make you smile.
He held a walkie-talkie in a fist. His shirt was official. His moustache was white. Just outside the bus stood a man who was identical. Except for the brown moustache.
The tall man strode down the aisle to the back of the bus. When he crossed again to the front, he came with a man who was dragging a suitcase. The tall man looked back at the other man as he walked. The suitcase-man was talking a lot and was tough to understand. They stepped off together.
The man in the official shirt climbed the steps once again, alone. He leaned down towards the passenger just behind the driver’s seat and said something.
Seat by seat, he braced his arms on the padded tops and narrowed his eyes at the faces below. His white moustache moved up and down. As he got closer, I could hear the question. His voice was soft and it was clear and he clutched the walkie-talkie at his side. It was the same question every time.
“Where were you born?”
He asked each of us, passenger by passenger. There were many different answers. Some answers came with an offer of papers lifted up. The tall man was slow as he unfolded them. He looked at some papers for a long time.
“Where were you born?” He was leaning down and looking at me.
“Indiana,” I said. He leaned closer.
“Where were you born?”
I looked up at him. “In Indiana.” My birth certificate was in my backpack. I thought of the zipper it was behind.
He leaned closer. “I asked you, where were you born?”
I thought about my picture ID, which was hundreds of miles away. “I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana,” I repeated again.
He stood up. “Have a good trip.” He stepped to the next aisle.
The man worked toward the back of the bus, and said something to his walkie-talkie.
He joined the identical man outside, and the engine rumbled to life again and we moved.
In each row of seats, people craned their heads and looked around at each other. Some people stared. Their eyes were sharp and tight while they watched other people put papers away.
Wherever we were and wherever we were going next, the man who had dragged his suitcase was not going with us.
I was born in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.