A Life Well Lived

​Business is Business     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

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Erma woke in a sordid mood. She should have felt better. After all, it was her retirement day. The job had been the same for 30 very long years. Now, she was going to be rid of it when the last little monster exited the school bus today. She thought she could drive another bus sometime, but not anything filled with kids ever again.

It was time to go. She knew the frustration of the school administration far too well. She knew the route that had never changed. She knew her bus, number 4712, and she knew the kids; every single one of them. These disappointments had all been exactly the same since she was a rookie driver; especially the middle schoolers. Erma had expected them to grow up at some point or another, but they remained absolutely the same.

Their morning routine mostly made up for the dangerous afternoon drive. The kids dragged themselves onboard like slugs on a dry sidewalk. Maybe it was their lack of sleep. Maybe it was their unwillingness to face the day. Maybe they were just saving their best energy spurt for the 3:15 tornado ride home. But today was the final assault for these Tasmanian Devils. She would be ready for them.

The gas tank was filled and the maintenance checklist was complete. She could do this. After an uneventful morning, Erma was ready for the long day’s journey into this goodbye. Nothing was going to unsettle her closing tour. She couldn’t be more prepared than if she had just had a Xanax milkshake.

The students scrambled onboard like a field of overripe dandelions blowing in a west wind and bounced into tandem seats. They almost immediately resurfaced as Seal Team Six in pursuit of Bin Laden. Lunch leftovers were planted in the aisle like land mines and half empty juice boxes flew like hand grenades. The nonstop chatter reminded Erma of machinegun fire. But she held it together.

As soon as the bus began moving, so did the middle schoolers. Boys and girls alike ran up and down the aisles. Linebackers clipped their weaker opponents, causing them to fall in and crush the few who had remained seated. Screams of chaos ensued, but Erma held it together.

One eighth-grade girl came up behind Erma spraying mist from a hand-sized container.

“Stop spraying that. I’m allergic,” Erma said flatly.

“I know you’re allergic to everything. I’m not spraying nothing, Miss Gerhart.”

“I can smell it,” Erma raised her voice several levels to the whine of a Japanese motorcycle at full power.

Her friends were laughing.

“We don’t smell anything,” one said.

“That’s cuz I didn’t spray nothing. Besides, you’re just a bus driver. You can’t do nothing to us.”

That was it. Her Zen had just been breached. Her inner chant had been ruptured. She pulls the bus to the side of the road. One of the girl’s friends was sitting behind the driver’s seat and began taunting Erma mercilessly. She was making faces and acting like a flustered adult.

“Oh, you think this is funny, do you?” Erma asked. “Let’s see how funny it is when I put my foot so far up your ass that it dangles from your nose. Oh, you haven’t seen funny yet. We’re skipping right over that, honey. You’re about to see crazy.”

She sat back down in the driver’s seat and restarted the engine. She picked up her GPS and requested the shortest route to hell. Ok, so Erma didn’t get that promised gold watch at her retirement party. There were no speeches to honor her contributions. There was no retirement bonus. But damn, that last ride was definitely worth it. ​