The One Bus Stop in Southpass, Wyoming
“Thank you, sir,” she quietly said to the driver as she stepped off the greyhound. The driver gave her a quick nod.
“You’re gonna need some warmer clothes than that gal if ya planning on staying here, but have a good one.” She gave him a quick smile. The word gal had a funny ring to it, like an extra curly end to a cursive q, but she liked it; she would add that word to her growing mental dictionary of words she hadn’t learn in the grammar books back home.
Her patent leather mary janes hit the ground at the bus stop, marked by one metal sign slanted at a 30-degree angle. In chipped off paint it read: The Town of South Pass, Wyoming. Bus Stop 1.
South Pass. She was really here. Her mind let that sink in. But her body had already been shocked by a winter breeze that seeped into her pantyhose sending a chill up the seams. The wind made the bus stop sign creek back and forth, as if it were waving hi to her. She hoped one bus stop sign would not be her only encounter on this trip.
As she walked down the street, her red uniform skirt that hit one inch above her knees appeared to be the only vibrant ray of color. The streets were a worn down asphalt grey layered by a sheet of ice. The sky, a blanket of smog. The signs for street names, barely readable. The only color she saw was one traffic light that stayed on a constant flashing red.
Everything was vacant. Did I make a mistake? She wondered. She didn’t know what to do or where to go. The questions and worries compounded in her brain as each minute went by without seeing another person. She planted her body on a bench outside and tried to wipe away any tears of worry and loneliness with her white silk blouse. Her skinny legs that were normally a butter brown from the Chilean sun turned an anemic white. She missed her mother and her younger brother, Emilio. She missed the fried empanadas and the spiced chocolate she would sip as she attempted to read Little Women.
Her conversation from several weeks ago replayed on repeat, now taunting her. Her mother had pleaded, “Maya, there is nothing for you to see there.”
“How can you say that, mama? Es mi padre. He’s my father. How can you say there’s nothing there for me there?” Her mother sunk into their kitchen floor, looking hopeless. And at that time, Maya resented her, but now sitting alone, missing all the love she had back home, she wondered what was wrong with her.
“I’m sorry, mama,” she murmured into her sleeve, as if saying the words out loud some 5,000 miles away from home would make everything ok. “I’m—”
“Excuse me, ma’am.” Maya turned around to see a young gentleman wrapped in a large wool coat. “Are, are you okay? You look awfully cold.” He gave an attempt at a slight smile. He wasn’t the kind to smile often. “Why don’t you come inside? I work at the store just across the street. She contemplated trusting this young man when her mother had always told her to trust no strangers, but she had already gone against her word once; what harm could a second time do?
She picked herself up and followed the man across the street to a row of a couple stores that all appeared to be closed. Bells, tied by twine to the top of the door, jingled as he opened the door for her. Each foot carried her slender body a little deeper into the warmth. Old books lined the walls, the floors, the ledges. Catalogs, magazines, ripped cover jackets, dog-eared journals, and biographies snuggled every nook and cranny of the room. Surrounded by all the words, she felt a little less out of place. “You like the books, huh?” he asked. She wandered farther between shelves, a little lost from reality. Her attention was bundled up. “I never introduced myself. My name’s Franklin. What about you?”
She twirled around slowly. “Me?”
Franklin chuckled, “Yeah, you. No one else really here in this town, much less this store. What’s your name? Where you from? You’re not from here. I know that much.”
“How do you know that?”
“Look at you. You’re dressed like the junior schoolboys when it’s blistering cold out— no sense of weather. ” She looked up at him a little insulted, a little offended. He was quick to clarify, “But I mean, to be fair, I’m not from here either.”
“Chile,” she succinctly stated in her mother tongue.
“Oh, wow, Chile. You’re from Chile. That’s really far from here. What are you doing so far away from home?”
It remained a question that pierced her consciousness as she slept on four different coaches, three city buses, and walked down the iced two-way street to get here. What was she doing so far away from home?
She sat down on a stool in the bookstore and began flipping through a couple books on the history of Southpass, Wyoming. Pictures. Names. Locations. She was looking for anything that remotely resembled the father she remembered some 15 years ago. She was looking for anything that sounded like the warm timbre he had when he introduced himself to guests: Luis Gloria.
“Well,” Franklin said impatiently. “I’ll start by talking about myself. Then maybe you’ll feel comfortable enough to share something with me.” Maya continued to ignore him, instead, giving her full attention to the books and catalogs. “So, I, uh, well, I’m from England, but I needed a break from that and my family back home. So about a year ago, I decided to come to America for college, but I didn’t really plan on ending up, here, in the middle of nowhere, but I honestly think I got—”
“Lu- Lu.. Luis!” Maya’s voice grew bubbling up in a way that shocked Franklin.
“No... Luke. oh.” Just as quick as her hope had peaked it descended like a plane dripping fuel only awaiting its eventual crash and burn. Finding her father’s name in a sea of letters felt like finding a lost canoe out on the ocean while a tsunami rolled in. It was hopeless. And should she ever find it, by the time she did, it would be a pile of broken shiplap washed up on the shores.
She started ripping sheets out of the books. These weren’t the same books that sent her to sleep each night while her parents spat perpetuating rage at one another. These weren’t the books she dreamed of living in. There wasn’t a wardrobe that transported her to Narnia where Aslan calmed her nerves. There wasn’t a Spanish lullaby embedded in the margins that hushed her body to sleep.
Franklin looked down at one of the books in shreds. He would have some explaining to do when his manager stopped by, but those were rare occurrences. He lifted his eyes to the human paper shredder, who was on the verge of tears.
“Hey. I don’t really know what you’re doing here. But you know there isn’t much to do in this little town. And it seems like you’re trying to get somewhere, or find something, or do. I don’t know. But I want to help you. I want to help you. But I really can’t do that unless you tell me what it is your trying to do or why you’re here or how I can help you. Or maybe just your name…. at least… maybe?” He paused, a little out of breath.
“Maya. My name is Maya. I am sorry for the book.”
“Oh no, it’s, it’s really fine.” Franklin looked at her. “No need to be sorry, Maya.”
She started cracking each knuckle, attempting to release points of anxiety. “I am looking for my father. His name is Luis Gloria. I think he may be here, in South Pass.”
Franklin nodded his head. “I don’t know a Luis, but the guys who work down by the mines may. I can drive you there. But first, why don’t I grab you a proper coat.”
The textured wool made her skin itch, but it didn’t bother her too much— it was something warm. In the seat of Franklin’s old car, she watched a keychain hanging from the front mirror sway back and forth as the car hugged along the curves of the road. That, combined with the soft putter, putter of the car, several restless nights on buses, and an emotionally drained mind, put her to sleep in the leather passenger seat next to Franklin.
“Maya,” he said softly. “Maya, we’re here.” She woke to Franklin’s voice. She quickly sat up, embarrassed that she had let herself fall asleep in practically a stranger’s car.
The scenery had changed. Though still dark and dreary, there were now people. Dozens and dozens of men in army green jumpsuits covered in a layer of soot walked around with various tools in their hands. Maya became a little horrified that she would find her father in one of these outfits.
“I just want to clarify myself, I only recommended coming down to the mines because a large majority of the men living in South Pass work here, so that’s why. I was thinking maybe if he’s not here, someone will know of him,” Franklin said. A little more unsure of his decision to come down here. He normally stayed nestled away behind the cashier at the bookstore. Coming down here in his prim vest and knee-length coat was a rare, and exceptional case.
As soon as they stepped out of the car, a man greeted them. “Can I help ya’ll? I sure hope ya ain’t planning on finding a job here. Don’t seem like the kind to be working down here. But what can I do for you?” The worker addressed Franklin. Franklin turned to Maya.
“She’s—” Franklin began. Maya stepped up a little closer to the worker.
“I am looking for my father. His name is Luis Gloria. Do you know him?”
“Hmm. Not ringin’ a bell, but there’s a lot of people out here. Some stay. Some go. Hard to know really.” He paused. He knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. He remembered his two daughters back home and how he hadn’t left the mines for over two weeks to see them. “Hey, girl, I don’t know what you're doing outside in a skirt in February in a Wyoming winter, and I don’t really know what to say about your father, but from the looks of your age, you got 10 years behind you and 100 years ‘head of you. And yet still life’s short. I could go out in a strike of lightning, or more probable a mining accident, but I wouldn’t want my daughters to spend the rest of their lives looking for air. Cherish what you got, girl. You hear me?” She nodded slowly. “Hey come here.” He found a little white stone in his pocket. “Now, these, are incredibly rare. We find them sometimes down in the mines as we’re digging, but they’re some of the hardest and rounded rocks on this world. My daughters Sarah and Gracie have one each, and this one’s for you.” He plopped it in her hand. “Now take those ice hands of yours and get back inside. And you,” he looked towards Franklin, “Treat this girl to a cup of hot cocoa. It makes these grey days a little better.”
Maya walked towards Franklin’s car and got in before he could say anything, so he just got in too, and they drove back to the bookstore. She read a lot of books there, some good, some bad, but mostly just a lot of books. Franklin came in with a cup of hot chocolate with two marshmallows floating on top.
“What are those?” she asked.
He chuckled, “Marshmallows… never had them before huh?” She shook her head.
She brought the styrofoam cup up to her mouth and let the warm liquid seep down her throat. It wasn’t her mother’s spiced chocolate, no, it was more like a swiss miss packet dumped into some warm water, but it still reminded her of home. Everything she had there. Everywhere she was going to go from there.