Next Stop

Running into the past in the present

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in Features • Illustrated by Eric Lauterbach

For this story, the animations are part of the story. Transcripts of the conversations are provided below the illustration.

I got to the bus stop in front of the New Orleans public library just before 11:00 to catch the E-2 to the airport for my flight back to Boston. Didn’t want to miss the 11:10 and pay $35 for an Uber. It had been a lovely trip — this time food —focused. I found NOLA oysters large and meaty but rather bland, preferring French oysters which are smaller and tastier, and which I can slurp elegantly in one go. However, when NOLA oysters are chargrilled in their shells, they became a different animal: six garlicky parmesan-crusted oysters made for a delectable and satisfying meal. I made note of these culinary experiences on my phone while waiting for the bus.

There was only one other person at the bus stop when I arrived. After five minutes, I looked up from my phone and six people had gathered with their suitcases. They stood behind the bus stop in the shade of the oak tree. Five feet away was an Indian man approximately five foot seven with peppered hair and beard, wearing jeans and a tucked-in polo, standing with feet apart for a sturdier balance, looking at his phone. I did a double-take. My heart leaped. Hope momentarily swept through me. He looked exactly like Raja, my husband.

I desperately wanted to share the moment with my daughter, Elizabeth, in Boston. She would be the only person in the world who could understand how this moment felt. I discreetly took a picture of him and WhatsApp’d it to her.

Immediately, I saw “typing . . . ” under her name on my screen as I typed my own message to her. Our messages crossed each other in cyberspace and landed on our screens at the same time.

Grace: I turned around at the bus stop and thought it was Papa.
Elizabeth: I thought that was Papa
Elizabeth: I had the exact experience
Grace: I miss him so much.
Elizabeth: Me too. It hurts

Me too.
So very much.

I swallowed hard. I wiped my nose on my sleeve. I blinked rapidly to clear my misty eyes as I continued typing.

Grace: That’s Papa in his early 30s when you were a little girl. His beard was peppered even then.
And his one pair of jeans that I’d wash so that he could wear it again
because we couldn’t afford a second pair.
Elizabeth: Yeah
And his old sneakers
And the way he looked down at his phone
Grace: The way he stands. And his black nondescript glasses. And the slight paunch.
Elizabeth: Exactly
Grace: And the polo. Tucked in
Elizabeth: And belt
Grace: He’d never wear any T-shirt or shirt untucked.
Elizabeth: So proper
Grace: The wedding ring. I lost mine. But Papa kept wearing his.
Elizabeth: Yeah, I remember.

The bus arrived and I boarded first. My heart was full. The ache had quietly evolved into pleasure by sharing sweet memories. An ambrosial taste of home — but ephemeral. I wanted to make it last as long as possible. So I kept on typing.

Grace: The gentleman boarded after me. He looked up as he walked past. The gait and look were so familiar; it’s like Papa was still here with us.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Ella wants to know why she has never met Grandpa Raja
Elizabeth: It’s hard to explain to a three-year-old
Grace: Yeah
Grace: Wonder if we’d move to Boston if he were here today.
Elizabeth: Well I always said I wanted you guys to live close
to me. Maybe he would have retired here
Grace: Totally possible. Because he’d have been smitten by Ella
Elizabeth: Yes, he would have
Elizabeth: And she would have loved him too. But it comforts me to know that she is him. His blood flows through her veins
Grace: Indeed

I looked out the window as the bus sped along. But I didn’t see suburban NOLA. Instead I felt crisp autumn air blowing gently on my face as Raja and I drive along Lake Thirlmere. Our annual retreat, cocooned in the Cumbrian valley by a riot of colors. Classic FM plays Elgar’s Salut d’Amour as we navigate the winding road hugging the lake. Wishing I could capture the moments in a bottle.

Grace: It’s going to be 9 years soon but it feels like only yesterday. Yet it also feels like he never left us.
Elizabeth: I know

Most of the locals had disembarked. The handful of passengers heading for the airport were scattered throughout the bus, each enjoying their private spot. I took out the lunch box that I had ordered from the hotel restaurant. Pan-roasted salmon with a NOLA rub served with a generous
portion of Brussel sprouts browned with lots of onions. Raja would have loved this. •

Grace Segran was a journalist and global nomad before settling down in Boston, MA, seven years ago where she discovered creative writing at GrubStreet. Her work has been published in the Columbia Journal, The Common, Pangyrus, Brevity, and elsewhere. She was a finalist in Columbia Journal's 2019 Fall Contest and the winner of the 2019 Keats Literary Contest.

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