Vera was traveling to New York on the Greyhound bus, carrying only her gym bag. In the morning, as he left Missouri, there was an orange heat warning and a terror warning. An hour outside Chicago, there was an elderly woman, crying and asking the bus to stop to let her go.
From Chicago to Cleveland, she sat next to a perfectly close man, who had just been released from a 10-year prison term and was on his way home from Texas with nothing but a bus ticket and twenty dollars in his pocket.
Between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, a man repeatedly tried to get her to share a blanket with him, claiming they were near an air vent, and between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the teenager escaped. Sit next to her and talk to her. ear. Turn off. And now there’s this: a small, wobbly child whose mother has put him in the seat next to him with the simple “Keep an eye on him, okay, honey?”
Vera tries to catch the eye of another passenger, possibly the woman two seats ahead of her on the other side of the aisle – she looks like the kind of person who would turn around and say, Keep an eye on him, miss. ; he’s yours, isn’t he? —but no one looked up. He was about two years old, brown-skinned, with a head of curls that someone had taken time to comb. He’s wearing a clean, bright red t-shirt, baby jeans, and better sneakers than Vera’s.
The mother was a thin, stressed white woman with golden tri-colour hair.
She smelled the strong smell of cigarette smoke and chocolate milk. She got on the bus with a boy and a girl, about seven years old, who looked like her in miniature. The little girl chewed the purple gum with enthusiasm, which prompted Vera’s mother to ask her, “Are you a girl or a cow?” The mother pressed the phone to her ear and was having a brief conversation with someone on the other end of the line. She kept the phone between her ear and shoulder, even as she bent down to kiss the boy’s forehead before walking further to the back of the bus.
“I feed it, don’t I?” she said into her cell phone.“When was the last time you did this?
The boy worried Vera. He is a quiet, happy child. He claps his hands occasionally, appreciating something only he can appreciate. However, he is still too small. Vera was subdued by the irrational belief that he might break if she took her eyes off him. As she watched him, he seemed to be following her back. In the window on the other side of the child, Vera saw a vague reflection of herself, which in one way or another would have nothing to write home about. By then, he had been on the bus for sixteen of the last twenty-one hours.
She was wearing jeans and an old t-shirt from the college she had dropped out of two years earlier. Her hair tied back into a ponytail began to curl. Vera passed a few months before her twenty-first birthday, which happened without any fanfare and excessive people tend to associate turning 21. Josh and Her colleagues at the record store ordered her a pizza at work and opened a couple of beers to toast her. That is so that.
Somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike, the bus pulled into one of the rest stops appearing 95 as punctuation marks. Vera went into the tourist square for a cup of coffee.
In the women’s restroom, she stretched her arms over her head in the mirror and curled up on her feet, then bent over again. She splashed water in her face, then pulled a small bottle of mouthwash from the duffel bag she carried with her and swished it around her mouth before spraying it in the sink.
When she returned to the bus, the boy was still sitting in the seat next to her.
Vera felt more friendly with him now because she saw how easy it was to walk. She turned to face him making him chuckle. She tries to get him into the cake game, but he seems to prefer to clap rather than repeat.
When the bus finally reached the Port Authority, Vera slipped over the boy’s seat to retrieve her duffel bag from the overhead bin. As she lowered her head at the weight of the bag, the boy began to giggle again. She smiled back at him, then looked over her shoulder at his mother and sister. The people at the back of the bus left one by one, but there was no sign of the blonde woman or her daughter.
Thinking that they might somehow overtake her, Vera picked the boy up, balanced on her hips, and dashed out of the car, into the parking lot.
No mother. She put the boy down and watched the rest of the passengers get off the bus until he got there empty. No mother. “I’m sorry,” Vera said to the old woman. “Have you seen the blonde and the little girl? They rode with us on the bus.
“The woman on the cell phone?”
Vera said, “That’s right.
“Think they set off in Jersey.
It sounded like someone had to meet her there. The woman took her suitcase from the side of the bus and walked away.
Vera looked around at the rapidly dispersed passengers, wondering what was wrong with them when none of them noticed an abandoned child. But when she accidentally squeezed his hand, Vera realized that to the crowd, he seemed to have been her boy once. In her lazy Native American appearance, Vera, with hair colour and haircut that suits him, looks more like his mother or sister than his mother and sister.
Is that why the mother chose her? Maybe she was going to leave him alone. Or maybe something terrible happened to her at the rest stop, she was dragged away by a stranger and hoped someone would realize she was missing before it was too late. Or maybe she lost focus, smoked a cigarette for too long, and is now frantic because the bus left without her.
In any case, it is obvious to go to the police, so that they can clarify the whole thing. But there’s this little boy who is holding Vera with his left hand while he sucks his right thumb. And this is this duffel bag, in between two layers of clothing, wrapped in a layer of plastic, and then a layer of gift wrapping, Vera has carefully placed a package containing twenty thousand dollars worth of cocaine. It was the last favour she did to Josh, and new as it was, she knew better than going into the police station with it.
“What’s your name, honey?” Vera asked the boy.
He shook his head. She brushed past him for a sign of the nameplate, eventually finding one on the inside lining of his T-shirt—someone had scribbled WILLIAM, black Sharpie, on the tag inside.
“Now, William,” Vera said. “Let’s get something to eat.”
Vera took him to a McDonald’s and watched him nibble on his fries and chicken nuggets. She considered dropping him off the steps of the police station and just walking away, but that felt rife with bad possibilities. He can follow her and get lost more than he already has. Someone might see her leave him and try to stop her.
There are more questions asked than she has answers. She has a thousand dollars in cash stuffed in her bag, and when she drops this package tomorrow, she will have another ten thousand dollars and her whole life ahead of her.
A year before dropping out, she completed the university’s mandatory community service requirement by working with a literacy program at a women’s prison. There are women who are not ten years older than her for holding, selling, transporting — mostly drugs from their boyfriends. A classmate once said that they had bargained their lives for a few thousand dollars, which only underscored to Vera how significantly the classmate missed the mark — most women This one didn’t make money in the first place. They did it for love.
Demon. This is not a love story. Josh was in his thirties, bald, and often wore button-down Hawaiian shirts. He had a crush on Vera once, but even then he couldn’t take the flirting to the point of being offended by her rejection.
He owned a record store, which was a hardware store until his father passed away.
For at least the past decade, he’s made more money selling pots and small quantities of potions in the backroom than he did selling records in the front room; not because he started selling more drugs but because people stopped buying music. To this day, Vera takes the front-room business seriously, maintaining a legitimate denial of whatever her employer is doing. She keeps a blank face while turning on suspicious-tasting music, erotic album covers, actual pornography, and cigarettes that twenty-something men buy for fourteen-year-old girls to linger around. outside. Vera is very good at pretending not to notice people who don’t want to be seen.
The renaissance downtown that had promised her for years was broken and shut down when the recession hit. Even after she had dropped out of school, it seemed better to stay at work than step back an hour and end up at home again.
Her father had suggested she get a cosmetology degree and work at the nail salon that opened in town, and Vera said, You want me to get a job that literally watches paint dry? When she called her parents back to apologize for her tone, she spoke as if Josh’s store was really something and she had big plans, when in fact every day She feels she has less energy to imagine a better version of herself. become.
Beneath the refurbished downtown lofts that have never been moved in are high-rise windows believed to be art galleries.
The stone-throwers hanging around the record store are receiving positive consolation compared with the kids lounging around in downtown parking lots, correcting her for the lingering vocals of their teeth. Josh refinanced the store and then blew the money into a bad investment and had trouble paying the mortgage.
Vera worked there for two years and was paid minimum wage during that time.
She had no savings and Josh knew it; he had seen her more than once in her twenties for lunch and dinner as payday approached and he saw her not eating at all. Through someone he knew he got to know this drug, which wasn’t methamphetamine, wasn’t heroin, it was a flashy thing, a one-time thing. He won’t get a chance to sell it in his own backyard—the police let him slide in the grass, but they’re getting antsy. He knows a guy in New York, and all she has to do is go there and she can take a fee. Josh will go out of hot water with the lender, and she can get out of Missouri and not look back.
When William finished eating, Vera took his hand again and went out to the pay phone. She called the number she saw on the side of a city bus, and said anonymously that a woman and a girl may have been injured near exit 9 of the Jersey Turnpike.
No, she doesn’t know their names. No, she didn’t know where they came from or where they were going. No, he couldn’t tell why he thought they might be in danger. No, it cannot be online. He took a taxi, checked into the hotel, put the child to bed, and called his mother to say everything was fine. …
In the morning, he boarded the train at the address Josh had given him. She took William with her because she didn’t know what to do with him. From the outside, the building looks modest, a grayish brown rock. He honked twice. The second buzz was answered by a female voice and asked who it was.
Vera opened a bank account and deposited two thousand dollars. He sat down at the coffee shop with William and called through the Craigslist rental office.
A few hours later, a Russian woman in Red Hook rented her a penthouse.
Vera has a list of friends willing to act as fake landlord recommenders, but the woman asks few questions after it becomes clear to her that Vera intends to pay both the first month’s rent and the security deposit. cash. The first night in the apartment, they slept on the floor. She watched the rise and fall of William’s chest, his small nostrils flare. He’ll need a bed, she thought, and just as she thought so, she realized that her intention to return him had disappeared out the window. He will be hers unless and until someone takes him away.
At this point, William seems to be in less trouble than anything else she’s gotten herself into. He was quiet, he was cheerful, and he imposed some order on her life. Meals must be eaten at the scheduled time.
There’s bedtime and a wake-up time. Vera rented a U ‑ Haul and packed her things around the city. When she went to buy a baby bed from a woman in Park Slope, the woman whispered to William and threw in a stroller for $50. By the end of the week, the apartment had been bought and the money was half gone.
Vera had intended to find a job as soon as she got here, but now it was a matter of William.
She couldn’t bring him in for an interview, or even drop a resume, because what if they wanted to talk to her then and there? Formal daycare seems to require more paperwork than she currently has, which means she needs a babysitter, which means she needs to take some time to figure it out. who can be trusted with him?
She felt a little guilty for worrying about letting him follow a stranger.
After all, what is she?
She searched for “William,” “missing child,” and “New Jersey,” set the date for the past month, and found no evidence that anyone was looking for him.
On Sundays, Vera took William for a walk in Prospect Park. She bought him a glass of ice water from one of the street vendors. While she sat on the grass with him, feeding him rocks and singing, with all her might, “Little Bunny Foo Foo,” she heard a voice calling her name. She turned and saw the man with frightened eyes approaching her.
“Vera, right?” he asks.
Vera said, “That’s right. “Derek?”
He nodded. “So you’re holding on?”
“Hope is good. I’m just doing a favour on my way out of here. ”
“So what’s your son’s name?”
“William,” Vera answered without hesitation, though she still hadn’t used the word boy for him. Derek sat down and started playing taboo with him.
“His father around?”
“Do you see anyone but me around?”
“Okay,” Derek said. William covered his face and looked disappointed that Derek had stopped playing with him. Derek reached out and tickled William’s belly until he giggled his squeaky baby.
“You know anyone who’s good with kids?” Vera asked.
“Am I not good enough?” Derek laughed. “I think the little man and I are getting along.”
Vera said: “I need someone to watch him. “I need to find a job.”
“What is your job?”
“I used to be a cashier.”
“Just a cashier, or do you keep records?”
“I saved the file.”
“Have you ever answered the phone?”
“When they ring.”
“Look at this,” Derek said. “Our receptionist has just quit her job. She is moving to LA. You care? You answer the phone, you file the paperwork, you schedule pickup and delivery, and ninety-five per cent of what we do is legal. ”
Keeping William’s past in the past, Vera who ran away from home was a Vera that could no longer exist. She is committed to the present. She loved waking up with Derek, feeling something solid beside her.
She liked the way he looked at her, the way he was with William, and the way he surprised her. She likes her life model now, the monotony of the house is overcome with the feeling of rushing to always be next to something, the feeling of having what she loves and appreciating it even more because she knew it could happen at any moment. minute.
And then everything happened.
Jacob, one of the transportation men, missed a puddle and slipped into an eighteen-wheeler in Manhattan on a rainy day.
Nineteen-year-old Jacob with amazing blue eyes, a smile as perfect as an orthodontist, a part-time singing gig, and a dream not to be an actor one day. He had gone to Vera’s office the day before, picked up a check and handed William a lollipop. He’d been to a holiday party a few weeks earlier, drinking fiery glasses of tequila and kissing a girl with striking pink colour and a crescent moon on the inside of her wrist.
There was a sombre memorial service, attended by dozens of friends and his fellow commuters, some wearing black bike helmets in solidarity. Vera bought a black dress and hugged William to her chest at the ceremony. He’s the only one who doesn’t cry.
Jacob’s mother is a doctor in Connecticut.
She hired a law firm. The lawsuit alleges the city failed to put in place proper regulations to ensure the safety of cyclists. That forces Brooklyn Delivers to recklessly expect unreasonable delivery times and overlook the myriad ways its employees violate safety procedures.
All of this is true and – despite the unenforceable liability waiver signed by the employees – may be actionable. In the dismal aftermath of Jacob’s death, Adam and Derek reacted poorly for the first few weeks. In the better period of a month, most of the time they are uneducated and high. Vera stopped overnight.
At home in her attic, Vera spent many nights awake, thinking about Jacob’s face the day he bent down to give William the lollipop. She thought of his mother’s pain, filtered through the web. One night, she imagined the irreparable loss of William.
Even the flash of pretending he was gone left her feeling so complete an alien that she broke down, lying there sobbing that William woke up crying too. She could not get up and walk up to him. In his office, he is looking for proof for the first time in months that anyone who has lost it wants to find it again.
He flipped half the page to announce the absence of the children, not wanting or hoping to find William’s face.
There is one photo after another. A blond boy with wide teeth in his mother’s lap. A cocoa-coloured girl with braids embroidered with beads, smiles and hugs a teddy bear. A seven-year-old child rides a pink bicycle. Vera knows that some people have died. For others, she represents impossible situations, situations where people like her are saved by them and lead to another life.
On the third page of the results, she found a bulletin board for parents of missing children, and under the headline, Vera finally saw the photo she had experienced. scared to see: William, the way he looked when she found him, his eyes unmistakable.
She tries to explain that she’s had William since August, and so this must be another baby, but she reads on anyway upset stomach. At the top of the page is his date of birth. He will turn three years old in April.
The man who posted the photo said he was William’s father. There’s a second picture, of him with William and William’s mother and a pretty blonde woman that feels like a long time ago. That doesn’t explain why she wasn’t looking for him.
This does not explain how William of Chicago, where his father lived, took the bus to the Jersey Turnpike. In the second photo, William is a baby. Both the man and the woman smiled widely, their eyes sparkling. At the end of the post, the man claiming to be William’s father listed police phone numbers and his own cell phone.
By the time Eileen was out the door, Vera burned William’s forged birth certificate with a lighter
fearing that she wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to hold him back. She starts a letter three times. On the first try, she insists that she doesn’t mean to usurp him, that it feels like he’s been given to her and that she just doesn’t question it.
One part in it, she realizes this isn’t her story anymore, that it’s not her own defence that matters. In the second edition, he focuses on all of William’s milestones: what he likes about him, his best days, he wants to show that he is happy and unharmed, but when he reread the letter, it seemed cruel to him to highlight his time period.
I lost it and will not return. In his third and final attempt, he tried to realistically calculate how long he held onto it to reassure his father that he tried his best not to. hurt him, that he had not fallen into terrible hands, that he had suffered irreparable hurt, that she was not the one who could harm him, although of course now He understood that she had. She held William in her arms until he fell asleep, then carried him to Eileen’s bed. She texted confirming Eileen was on her way home.
She left notes for William’s father and notes she wrote to Eileen, with William’s father’s name and address, sitting on the coffee table, next to Eileen’s apartment key. She walked three blocks and called a taxi.
On the way to the bus stop, the city passes in the shade of brick and beige and grey. Vera startled and trembled. Adam and Derek waited until they could be found again, but Vera understood that now that she was lost forever, it would be necessary to let the murky country swallow her whole. The taxi driver thought she was drunk and repeatedly offered to pull over if she needed to pass. The third time he suggested, she said yes, but when she opened the door and leaned out, nothing appeared. Only the dizzying cold, and her empty stomach heaving.
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