The Greyhound left Portland at sunset. Everyone on board looked damp and tired from the afternoon’s rain. I was sitting in the aisle seat near the middle of the bus, next to a girl who looked my age. I watched her out the corner of my eye; tall and slender, straight brown hair covering most of her face, her legs propped against the seat in front of her, an open book on medieval mysticism in her lap. I knew I’d have to be the one to start the conversation.
She turned towards me half-heartedly. ”Yeah. To Sacramento.”
”What are you doing over there?”
”Visiting friends,” she said. There was a pause where she considered the worth of engaging me further. ”What about you? Where are you going?”
”San Francisco,” I said. ”I’m traveling for a while.”
”Oh, are you doing Couchsurfing over there?”
”Yeah, actually. I’ve been doing it all along the coast. I love it.”
“That’s funny,” she said closing her book, “I used to host people in Portland all the time.”
“No way. So you’re not doing it anymore?”
“No, I got busy. Work and school and all that. What’s your name by the way?”
“I’m Daniel,” I said.
“Miranda,” she replied, and we shook hands.
And at that point it was easy. We had just merged onto the highway and it had just gotten dark. The people around us were either sleeping or silent, and the two of us had an equal amount of nothing to do on an overnight bus to California. A good situation.
We talked mostly of travel, about the places we’d been, the places we wanted to visit. She told me she’d taken two years off college to live in the mountains of Hawaii. That she knew how to fish with a net, and had hiked from one end of Maui to the other. I told her about my trip to Europe, of my adventures living in Edinburgh, and we both agreed we’d like to live in France one day.
And then she told me she had a boyfriend.
A serious one whom she was planning to see in Sacramento along with her friends. A painful reveal, as she was attractive and my age and easy to talk to and actually seemed interested in what I had to say. But isn’t that always how it is? These meetings arise out of chance and are stunted by circumstance.
Around midnight we both decided to try and get some sleep, and getting a good night’s sleep on the Greyhound is no easy task. The chairs lean back just enough to yield a meager comfort. Your head lolls back and forth as the bus rounds corners or slows down or speeds up. And if that weren’t enough, Greyhound stops at middle-of-nowhere towns all throughout the night, picking up strange people with little or no luggage who look like they don’t really need to be there (or anywhere, for that matter). So you spend most of the night hoping for an hour or two of decent shut-eye, but mostly you just look out the window, admiring the icy stars that hover above silhouettes of mountains and forests.
During the night, the bus rocked our bodies so that I was leaning on her or she was leaning on me, and I’ll admit that it felt nice. I liked the strands of her hair that fell over my shoulder, or her knee against my thigh. It made me realize I would’ve liked to be with Miranda, would’ve liked to make her a part of my life. I felt like we worked together, like we made sense, but circumstance is the death of possibility time and time again.
We arrived at the Sacramento bus station around 7 am. The sun had just risen above the horizon and the world was bathed in a dull, pale light. I woke my body aching, my neck bent to the left, my right foot sticking out into the aisle. She woke curled against the window, her hair a mess, her eyes swollen and purple with tired.
”How’d you sleep?” I asked.
”Like hell. You?”
She sat up and stretched, giving a languid yawn, then asked me for a pen. I retrieved one from my backpack while she took a crumpled piece of notebook paper from her purse.
”Here,” she said taking the pen and scribbling on the paper, ”this is my Couchsurfing and this is my Facebook.” She folded the paper and handed it to me like it was a secret valentine. ”If you’re ever in Portland again, hit me up.”
Inside the station we hugged and said goodbye. I watched as she walked out the front door, ducked into a car that had just pulled into the lot, and was driven away.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever see her again, but something tells me that it’s all connected. That in some other life, when we were different people living in different places, we had known each other. And we have continued to know each other time and time again, our orbits colliding one lifetime after the next, our meetings victim always to time and circumstance, dependent entirely on chance.