When Daphne told Mr. Calisto that Andre Molina was on the bus, he was so overjoyed and relieved that he entered the woods screaming to the wind that the boy had been found.
The other bus driver, a tall man with a large mustache, raised his hands to the sky.
Daphne and Ben went back in the bus to talk with Andre, who was more and more aware of the commotion outside.
He refused to leave the bus.
“Am I in trouble?” He asked Daphne and grabbed her hand the same way her brother Chris would have done to seek support. “I heard mommy screaming. Is she mad at me?”
“No, don't worry. Your mother will be happy to see you,” Daphne assured him.
“I wanted to fix the bus,” he said, his round, black eyes starting to tear up.
It turned out that Andre Molina slipped away from his mother the moment she fell asleep and went back to the bus hoping he could fix it, like he fixed his toys at home. Everyone had been so distracted chatting, that they didn't notice him walking away from Tammy.
Once Andre realized he couldn't fix the bus, he curled up under a seat and fell asleep. He did hear everyone shouting out his name, but was then too afraid he was in trouble.
Daphne took him in her ams and carried him outside. The lollipop Ben gave him highly improved his confidence.
Soon enough, the passengers walked out of the woods. One by one, they greeted Andre, surround Daphne and Ben in a close circle.
They asked her over and over how and where she had found him, and even called her heroine of the day. All the time Ben proudly stood next to her.
“I thought I had left my scarf on the bus and went back to pick it up, then I found him sleeping in the back,” Daphne told them, and prayed Andre wouldn't mention he had seen her crying.
“When I turned the lights off I didn't see him. . . and all along he was hiding under a that seat!” Mr. Calisto added, and scratched his head whenever he said the same rehearsed words.
Daphne was telling the same lie for the twentieth time, when Tammy Molina finally arrived. Everyone quickly opened space for her, and Tammy ran into the circle.
Watching Tammy approach gave Daphne goosebumps. Her red curls flew behind her, and the tears streaming down her face reflected the moonlight, marking her cheeks with stars.
When Daphne passed the boy to her, she noticed that Tammy's entire body was trembling. She had never seen anybody moved by that much emotion. Abelard had showed many signs of feverish feelings in various circumstances, but his emotions were always drunken rather than naturally passionate.
“Andre,” Tammy sobbed and squeezed the kid against her as if in a desperate attempt to attach him to herself, so she would never lose sight of him again. “Where were you?”
“In the bus,” he said with a weak voice.
“Didn't you hear mommy calling your name?”
“I did, mommy,” he said, already crying.
“Why didn't you say 'I'm here'?”
But Andre didn't want to talk about it and buried his face in her hair. Tammy stopped insisting. She was satisfied to have him back.
After the passengers self-indulged in telling and retelling their own adventures in the woods, they were rushed by the other bus driver, who introduced himself as Mr. John Girvin, to hop on the bus. They were too far behind on the schedule and his passengers were already beyond impatience.
Annoyed, the passengers squeezed their luggages in the already packed luggage compartment, and tried to find seats on the now overly crowded bus.
Dissent, as expected, started when Mr. Girvin hastened them again to sit down. They didn't, though, feel very inclined to follow the commands of a stranger.
Almost nobody from the loyal group of Andre's rescuers was able to sit together and found it impossible to befriend their new insensible seat neighbors. The bus had barely moved an inch when they noticed Mr. Calisto was standing outside by the broken bus.
“Mr. Calisto!” A woman cried from her seat, alarming the other passengers. “Why is Mr. Calisto not coming with us? Stop this bus. Stop this bus!”
The bus, however, didn't stop.
The woman, who was very tall and corpulent, stood up annoyed. She was right in front of Daphne's seat, and Daphne thought she looked like a mountain covered by a gigantic floral sheet.
“Why isn't this man stopping? Stop this bus!” She yelled and one by one the passengers from the broken bus joined her in the stop this bus chorus. Even shy Daphne, feeling awkward, joined them.
Although he had to, they didn't want to leave him behind, alone, in the dark.
The chanting progressed louder.
Annoyed by the noise, Mr. Girvin gave in and stopped the bus. Laughter and claps exploded among the protesting passengers, and a few of them ran to the bus door, which Mr. Girvin opened unwillingly.
“Do you think this is a joke? I have my passengers to drive to Silver Creek!” He yelled, but they ignored his words.
“Man, why aren't you coming with us?” A young man asked Mr. Calisto from the door.
“Don't stay on your own here!” Another man told him.
Mr. Calisto ran to talk with them. Panting, he explained that he could not leave the broken bus. He had to wait for the towing vehicle to pull it to the closest bus depot. He was visibly flattered by their unexpected loyalty. Puffing up his rickety chest, he stood outside looking like a proud soldier.
“We mustn't leave!” An old woman announced from her seat, and banged her cane on the floor of the bus. “This man will be eaten alive by bears if we leave him behind.”
“Or brutally killed by assassins!” An old man said gravely, and banged his cane on the floor as well.
Some of Mr. Girvin's passengers laughed, offending Mr. Calisto's passengers. For a second, there was a silent war of who could make the best angry faces, but Mr. Girvin interrupted them.
“Enough!” He yelled, and abruptly closed the door. The two men standing by it jumped back.
Annoyed, one of them – a tall, athletic young man – leaned over and turned the engine off.
“What the heck?” Mr. Girvin shouted at him, and the guy then pulled the keys and ran away to the back of the bus.
Mr. Calisto's passengers cheered and clapped vigorously. It was like they had just watched their favorite team score.
“Go Jesse!” The woman sitting in front of Daphne cheered, when he ran past her.\
Jesse raised his arms, celebrating his own doing. He had barely reached the last row of seats when he suddenly tripped.
Daphne's mouth fell open. She was certain someone had tripped him on purpose, since the group of passengers next to him – all of them were Mr. Girvin's – were wildly laughing and giving significant looks to one another. Jesse, who had banged his head on a seat when he fell, was a little disoriented as he tried to get up.
“My baby!” The corpulent woman in front of Daphne said in grief, and in a very uncoordinated manner tried to reach her son.
“Give me back those keys, you thief!” Mr. Girvin yelled right behind her.
The woman slowly turned to him. Everyone gasped. Her face was distorted with anger and every inch of her body seemed to be emitting waves of wrath.
“Who are you calling thief?” She asked him.
Mr. Girvin understood right away he was in danger and stepped back.
“Are you referring to my son? My son, you Mr. Nobody, is a saint! All he did was to help that poor man from being left behind by a monster like you!” She said, her fat forefinger pointed at Mr. Girvin, who looked at it as worried as if he was facing a gun.
Mr. Calisto's passengers cheered once again.
Daphne couldn't help laughing when she saw Jesse lose his balance. His mother bent over him. As he outstretched a hand to reach her, she carelessly took the keys from him and looked back at Mr. Girvin. Without support, the boy then fell on his face one more time.
That had to be the most hilarious experience she had ever lived.
The back of the bus, watching everything closely, burst into laughter. Even Daphne continued laughing, but covered her mouth with her hands. She felt guilty. Finding the situation funny felt like she was betraying her allegiance.
“Here are your keys, Mister,” the woman said. Mr. Girvin clasped them, trembling. “Now listen to what I am going to say: this bus is not going anywhere until the towing truck gets here. Do you understand what I'm saying? We're going to wait here with Mr. Calisto,” she added, and her words left Mr. Calisto's passengers exhilarated.
A man stood up by one of the front seats and started booing.
“Shut up, fat lady. Let's go to Silver Creek, bus driver!” He shouted.
Half of the bus gasped, and the other half cheered.
Before he could get himself into trouble again, Mr. Girvin darted away to his seat.
“Did you just call me fat?” The woman yelled, her long earrings dangling from her ears back and forth as she dangerously approached the man who insulted her. Daphne thought she looked like a mad bull.
“Yes, I did. Are you insane, woman? If you and your people don't want to go, then leave the bus. We need to get to Silver Creek. We're already doing you guys a favor to drop you off at Middleton,” he said calmly, but the woman still was thinking about the way he had addressed her, since she unexpectedly took off one of her shoes and threw it at him.
The shoe, bright red, flew up toward him like a rocket. His neighbor was lucky and ducked just in time, and the shoe struck him full in the face. The man stumbled, confused, accidentally hitting his back on the window behind him.
Most passengers covered their mouths with their hands. Daphne's heart was beating fast as she waited apprehensively to see what would happen next. Nobody wanted to interfere in that increasingly dangerous divergence for fear they would become the next victims of the red shoe.
Daphne looked back at the woman's son. He had finally found a way to stand up. To her horror, though, he was bleeding from the mouth. Wide-eyed, she looked at the red stream flowing down his chin. He used the back of his hand to wipe off the blood. When he opened his mouth to clean the excess of blood, Daphne noticed he had lost half a front tooth. She looked around, and saw that most passengers looked hypnotized by hatred against each other.
Daphne then knew she had to find a way out before she got sucked into the same madness.
Her attention shifted back to the man who had been struck by the woman's shoe. His left eyebrow was starting to bleed. As soon as he returned from the state of confusion in which he was, he aggressively took off one of his shoes and paid the injury the same way. Daphne was barely able to see what happened to the woman. All passengers, incensed by the first real opportunity to vent their frustration, stood up and started throwing whatever objects their hands could find at each other.
Old, young, men, women, all passengers engaged in an insane war.
Daphne slipped away from her seat, scared, and tried to dodge the objects that went by flying as she rushed toward the exit. A man, however, tried punching another, though lost his balance and accidentally pushed her, who tripped and fell on someone nearby.
“Oh, I'm really sorry!” She said, and struggled to stand up. She was aware that she could be making someone very angry at her.
“That's all right, Daphne,” said a familiar voice behind her. She turned and was surprised to find out she had fallen on Ben.
He was holding his backpack up as a shield. Tammy Molina was behind him, nervous, holding Andre. The little boy was crying in a low voice. Without thinking twice, Daphne quickly pulled her backpack and joined Ben in protecting Tammy's son.
“I have to get my son out of this place!” Tammy cried.
Reaching the door, though, seemed impossible. A group of men were grappling nearby, blocking the corridor. All that was left was to shield Andre from any objects flying his way as they waited for the first opportunity to escape.
Daphne, from her position on the front, noticed Mr. Girvin quarreling with the other man who had tried to convince Mr. Calisto to hop on. Mr. Girvin's eyes looked like they were about to jump out of his face as he commanded the other man to stay away from him, and they started wrestling in the most uncoordinated manner. When his aggressor slipped, Mr. Girvin freed himself from him and anxiously stumbled to open the bus door. As soon as the door opened, Mr. Girvin left the bus running and screaming.
Finding the door open, Mr. Calisto hopped on and shouted “stop fighting!” in a high-pitched voice, though in a very powerful manner. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing, their punches freezing in the air.
He took a few steps forward, his chest going up and down as he tried to control his breathing, and pulled a water bottle from a man's hand before he could hit another passenger on the head. Visibly angry, he threw it over his shoulder without looking back. The bottle almost caught Mr. Girvin.
Mr. Calisto looked at them with a disappointed expression, when Andre's now audible crying caught his attention. He leaned forward and outstretched his arms to the boy. Tammy then passed Andre to him somewhat unwillingly.
“Are you all mad?” He yelled, protectively holding Andre in his arms. The boy cried even louder.
Tammy Molina motioned to get her son back, but Ben asked her to wait a little. She looked uncertain, but stayed seated.
“What's wrong with you people? Why were you attacking each other like crazy animals? You were risking this child's life! He was crying all this time, but I ask you if you noticed him. No, you were too busy fighting each other over nothing. Over what? Yes, you tell me. Oh, you can't say a word. Let me tell you, then. You were killing each other like beasts because you're too selfish,” he said.
“We – we just –,” a woman said.
Mr. Calisto cut in. “Tried to wait with me until the bus got towed? Why didn't you step out of the bus, then, and simply let Mr. Girvin drive his passengers to Silver Creek? That poor man was just trying to do his job!”
Andre continued crying. And Mr. Calisto continued lecturing.
“And now he is gone. What am I going to do with you? I can't just go looking for him and leave you here. I have a fellow bus driver missing, a broken down bus and another bus full of passengers to drive to two different locations. How am I going to solve this? If I leave you here and go looking for Mr. Girvin, I'll lose my job. If I drive this bus and leave the broken down behind, I'll lose my job the same way!”
Andre was already kicking him.
Mr. Calisto was surprised when Ben suddenly stood up. He calmly passed his backpack to Daphne. “The boy, Sir?” He asked, and Mr. Calisto handed Andre to him with a confused expression. Ben, then, gave the struggling boy back to his mother, who held him eagerly concentrated on trying to soothe his anger, but without forgetting to acknowledge Ben's help. She gave him an affable look that made him visibly blush.
Daphne looked from Tammy to Ben, and frowned. She didn't know why, but she felt awkward.
Mr. Calisto shook his head to clear his thoughts, and after scratching his chin vigorously, he took his cell pone and said to the person on the other side what had happened to Mr. Girvin and that he could not wait anymore.
He wanted to drive the replacement coach himself, and leave the broken bus behind. The person Mr. Calisto was talking with probably yelled at him, since he winced and turned the cell phone off abruptly and ran to the driver's seat.
He didn't have to say a word. Everyone quickly ran back to their seats, and sat looking tense like students who had just been caught doing mischief in the classroom.
Daphne handed Ben's backpack back to him. When he held it, she noticed he had a cut on the back of his hand. Blood was still wet, but the wound didn't seem to be bothering him.
“Is it hurting?” She asked a little alarmed.
Ben, however, was distracted talking with Tammy and making silly faces to amuse Andre, and didn't hear her question. Daphne didn't ask it again and briskly walked away back to her seat afraid he would notice she had addressed him at all.
The trip to Middleton was gloomy and silent. Nobody, after all that had happened, dared say a word, much less look at neighboring passengers. When they arrived in Middleton, it was already very late. The streets of that old town were already empty. The passengers quickly disembarked, got their luggage, and vanished from each other's lives.
Daphne was exhausted. Coming to Middleton was starting to feel like a bad idea, but Daphne had to go on. Little she knew that incidents like the fight in the bus was only the beginning of a string of the strangest events and misfortunes.