The policeman's deliberations were winding down. He crumpled the ticket, and between pinched fingers, offered it back to the bum. For a moment it looked like he was just going to calm the guy down and let him get on with his journey, but after standing pensively for a few moments, hands on hips, he beckoned for the crazy guy to follow him out of the terminal.
"What'll happen to him?" I asked Mike, as the cop led his charge away, craning his neck to speak into his radio as he sauntered past us. "Oh, station first, then maybe hospital. I dunno, never happened to me. The only time I had a real bad episode my mom took me into hospital by herself." He laughed happily, as if the memory of his hospitalising lapse into insanity was a good joke, or a comfort. "You know what she caught me trying to do? I had a needle and a biro, and I was making all these weird scratches on my arms and legs, and squeezing the ink onto them because I thought I'd see messages. They healed up pretty good though, so there's nothing to show." I nodded and smiled, after all it was a good thing that Mike hadn't scarred too badly.
The whole sequence with the policeman and the madman had lasted maybe ten minutes, and as the guy was being led away there was activity over by the gate marked 'Seattle' and the pop-crackle of a microphone being turned on. Quickly we all mobilized, with the veteran as our leader because he had bravely refused to yield the prime front-of-gate ground. A fat man in short sleeves and short trousers entered through the gate, and began by asking us all to have our tickets ready. Mike and I were near enough the front of the line to have our pick of seats, so I knew I couldn't escape him.
Our luggage was stowed under the bus, in separate compartments because we were going to different cities. I noticed this and remained quiet, Mike noticed this and said "So you're going to Seattle? GREAT PLACE! I know some good guys up there, I can hook you up with their numbers if you want someone to show you around." I was relieved when Mike didn't instantly reel off a list of numbers, but I didn't doubt that he was serious and that I'd get them at some point during the coming hours. I wondered what kind of friends a guy like Mike had - I thought about guessing, but disliked the idea of thinking of myself as an uncharitable sort of person, which I'd probably have to if I pondered for too long. I stepped up onto the bus, and as usual sized up the rest of the crowd, looking for empty seats, looking for anyone that might be trouble (I never found anyone).
Trouble though is a word that changes its meaning in proportion to a given situation. On a bus from DC to Chicago a woman claimed she was having a heart attack. She gained the attention and succour of at least two modern Samaritans, and once she'd 'recovered' enough for the driver to be convinced it was safe to continue, she proceeded to spend the next seven hours abusing her new carers' by reading them her poetry. I was only sitting a few rows behind her, and was pleased at my initial cowardly lack of boldness whenever I caught snatches of their ordeal. She had been in DC attending a poetry competition, and had novelty mugs with 'I Love POETRY' to hand out as rewards to the suitably complimentary listener, even though from what I heard, the rhythm of her verse was in a far ropier state than that of her heart.
Looking up and down the aisle, there were a few unshaven guys who must've closed their eyes the minute they sat down, either embracing or feigning sleep, and the rest of the coach was almost empty. I picked a seat a few rows down from the veteran who'd naturally been the first on, and waited for Mike's inevitable descent onto the seat next to me.
"Hey, mind if I sit with you?" he said, already shifting his buttocks to accomodate the generous dip in the seat. Of course I didn't. Who could object to Mike's company?
Somehow he'd managed to keep hold of burger wrapper, now empty but for the odd livid smear of mustard and ketchup. Only now remembering the litter in his hand, Mike balled it in his fist and let it fall between our feet. I stretched out a toe-cap and punted it under the seat in front of us while Mike was busy prodding at the straps that hung like little canvas creepers from his bag in the overheard compartment.
Slowly the rest of the bus filled up at a speed established by the fussy precision of the baggage handler below us. A few Mexicans filed past us, all wearing regulation uniform of check-shirt and cranially capacious baseball cap. They all sat near each other, as if they were familiar, but none spoke. A blonde woman in her thirties, clutching too many bags and a blanket, fell into the seat behind us in a barrage of muttering and self-satisfied laughter. This was Kimberley, who was not yet known to Mike and I. We would have to wait about another thirty minutes for that privilege. For a while we sat in silence, just watching the passing faces of our travelling companions, careful to avoid eye-contact.