I close my eyes and say a little prayer for Camille and Trevor, or whomever those people are.
In the seat behind Camille there sits an old man. He is looking straight ahead, never turning his head to look out the window, or to scan the inside of the bus. I wonder what he’s seeing, if he’s seeing anything, in the flat nylon black of the back of her bus seat.
His name is Bud. He is nearly blind, his macular degeneration getting the best of him, despite his opthamologists best laser efforts. His reason for this bus ride is simple, true love.
Bud joined the U.S. Army just shy of his 18th birthday. World War II was raging, he had dreams of seeing the world in a fighter plane. But, he had to get his mother’s permission to enlist.
At the time, he’d thought that would be the hardest part. Harder still, was saying goodbye to Cora.
She was the first girl he’d ever kissed. She made his heart leap with her shy smile. Her father had actually let them go see a movie and get a lemon phosphate, let them take the street car after dark. If there was anyone Bud was going to marry, it was Cora.
Just after he’d turned in his enlisting papers, he sat with her, on her Daddy’s front porch, and broke her heart.
The lure of glory, of patriotic duty was the only thing that would come between them, but not for long, he promised her. She didn’t say a word, just nodded, squeezed his hand, and smiled through eyes brimming with unshed tears. He’d carry her picture with him everywhere. He’d come home and marry her when the war was over. She kissed his cheek, stood up, and said, “Okay, Bud. Okay.” And went inside.
He came to say goodbye the day he was leaving for Boot Camp. Her Daddy came to the door, said Cora wasn’t well, and gave Bud a photograph. It was Cora, wearing that flowered dress and the white hat she’d been wearing on their first date. She was smiling. His heart leaped.
“Be safe, Boy.” her Daddy said, putting a hand on Bud’s shoulder, “Be safe.”
Bud never saw Cora again, except in that photo. He wrote to her from Boot Camp. Received nothing back. His last letter to her asked her to meet him at the train station back home, if not on his return from training, then, please Cora, dear, on the day he was shipping off to England.
The only hands holding his, only kisses of welcome and goodbye, belonged to his mom and grandmom. He tried to absorb his mother’s love, his grandmother’s pride, but all he could do was scan the crowd for a glimpse of a pretty girl in a flowered dress and white hat. She never came.
During the war, his mother wrote him that Cora’d gotten married. He still kept her picture with him. It was always next to his skin, under his flight suit. Even when they had to crash land in enemy territory, and he was smuggled out through the Underground, Cora’s picture was never lost.
Bud came home safe. He married, had kids, buried first one wife, then decades later, another. He’d known the great love of two wonderful women. Women who’d given him all of their hearts. He’d thought he’d given each all of his. But a piece of him still belonged to Cora.
Then on his 85th birthday, his granddaughter asked him, “Pop, who is this girl in the flowered dress? In the picture on your desk? Is that Granny?”
Tears welled, tears fell. He told her their story. Before he knew what was happening, it was a few days later and his granddaughter was handing him her cell phone, saying, “It’s ringing, Pop. I found her.”
“Hello?” she answered and his heart leaped. His eyes were shot, but he could still see her smile in his heart.
“C-cora?” he stammered, “It’s your old beau-” he began.
“Bud? Oh, Bud!” she’d interjected.
The bus jostled over a dip in the road, and the old man’s head finally turned towards the aisle. I swear I see him smiling from where I sit.