As if the drudgery of the cross-country bus ride wasnít bad enough, I have these two tourists to contend with, a giggling middle-aged couple from some place ease, dressed in clothing so gaudy they need to wear sunglasses day and night to keep from going blind.
He wears kaki shorts and the brightest Hawaiian shirt Iíve ever seen, his mouth and moustache perpetually moving as if chewing over some snack I never see him eat.
If heís spoken to me, I havenít heard it, thought he has sat across the aisle from me for more than the two days since I boarded the bus in Pennsylvania.
He only chirps at his female companion seated on the window side. She does all the talking to me for both of them, and once started never stops Ė her voice as sharp as a cricket sound and as difficult to understand.
She has so little of substance to say, I stop trying to interpret. She also manages the English language so terribly, I find it hard to believe she originated anywhere in America.
As much as I try to ignore them, I canít.
I find myself secretly observing them when they are looking at things other than me Ė which isnít often.
These two are so taken with me it scares me.
They stare at me and chirp, and I get the feeling the are saying things about me even when they are chirping between themselves.
When they look at me I see the same look I see in the eyes of a girl who has just seen a kitten or a puppy she would like to bring home as her pet.
This makes me so uncomfortable, I stare out the window on my side and count down the mileage markers to the next bus stop, trying to hurry the bus along to my eventually destination in Los Angeles.
At each bus stop, I look over at them for any sign them might be packing up for their departure.
Their chirping does not make clear where they are traveling to or from.
They also seem fascinated with the landscape, even in the dark, pointing at things day and night with an excitement that seems beyond even the most enthusiastic tourist.
The more I watch them the more convinced I am that they have come from a lot further away than Baltimore or Boston, and perhaps they have a destination well-beyond the busís capacity to reach.
It other people on the bus notice how different this couple is, they make no indication Ė all seem preoccupied with their own thoughts, sleeping or some manner of personal amusement such as struggling to read or listen to music as the miles roll under us.
Some, however, do look up with the couple rises and makes their way back to the toilet at the read of the bus.
The two tourists never go alone
They are also so unnaturally clumsy Ė struggling to walk the narrow aisle Ė they seem almost drunk or perhaps unable to deal with the movement of the bus, staggering into me and other people on their way to the toilet and then again on the way back.
At these times, they seem unable to deal with gravity itself, their fingers clinging to the arms of seats to either side as if they might float away if they donít.
At some point after the bus leaves Phoenix but before it plunges into the no-manís land of the California desert, I wake up from a dark nightmare about snakes.
This might be inspired by the desert I stare at for hours until sleep.
I also have an incredible need to use the toilet so I jump up and head back, failing to notice the empty seats where my two tourist friends usually sit.
Since the tab on the door lock says ďunoccupied,Ē I donít bother to knock, yanking open the door with a desperation only a blatter irritated by miles of bus vibrations can inspire.
I hear more than see the slither of snake-like shapes inside, as if I am still in the midst of my dream.
My light-adjusting eyes begin to register the full impact of what is inside the phone booth-sized toilet, where every inch is filled with slithering snake-like tentacles in the middle of which is the tourist like garments my bus companions wear.
I slam the door.
Then stagger down the aisle, dragging myself forward by the backs of each seat, knowing that if I let go for a moment I will fall on my face.
I fall into my seat instead, close my eyes and pretend sleep, trembling uncontrollably as the two tourists make their way up the aisle behind me from the back. Both of them chirp away as if everything is normal.
They sit. I stay still, waiting for the movement and chirping to cease, cursing my closed eyes from my inability to read the mileage posts to our next rest stop.
I hear only the wheels under us and the on-and-off switches of the heating system adjusting for the cold of the night time desert outside.
Finally, after what seem like light years of traveling, the bus slows and the hum of the wheels over asphalt changes as the tires pop on the gravel drive of the small town bus depot.
The interior of the bus comes alive with movement as the passengers rise from their stupor as if from the dead and make their way down the aisle to the front door and out.
Still, I keep my eyes pressed shut, pretending sleep, waiting for the chirping sound of the two across from me to leave, as they always do, obsessed the way all tourists are at picking up knick-knacks from this part of the universe they cane bring back to show those at home.
When I am certain they are gone, I open my eyes.
A handful of wearing or moody passengers remain in the seats around me.
I rise, peering out the window as I make my way down the aisle to keep track of the gaudy garb just then headed into the small depot building.
Once outside, I catch the driver and tell him Iíll be getting off here and ask him for my luggage to be unloaded from the storage chamber in the belly of the bus.
He looks at me oddly, knowing that I have a ticket for LA, and the only people who get off here are migrant workers headed for the copper mines. But he complies.
I drag my bags into the shadows along one side of the building and then watch as the passengers board the bus again, including the gaudy couple in the seats next to mine.
I watch the bus pull away, its rear red lights fading into the dark distance like shrinking stars.
I am cold, but less scared than I was, and sit down on the splintered wooden bench for wait for the next bus to LA in the morning.
Then, in the dark desert beyond the small depot, I hear a chirping sound I know are not crickets and slithering sounds I know are not snakes.
Again in my head, I see visions of a little girl calling to a stray dog to come home with her.