Sitting at the back of the bus, Emily stared at the people around her. It had become a game.
She looked at the old man with ragged clothes and a badly trimmed beard who was struggling to stay awake in a corner.
“Is he a homeless person?”, she wondered to herself. “Why would he take the bus to the city?”.
She then turned her gaze to a young man in an oversized suit reading a book as if he was memorizing the contents.
“Probably a job interview,” Emily suspected. But the kid looks so nervous. My Aron, too, might do the same thing soon. I wish he would get this scholarship. Should I wish this boy good luck? Probably not.”
Emily quickly sought out her next target because this young man made her nervous about her own son’s future.
She saw a very young couple in love. She could only see the back of their heads. She noticed that the woman was resting her shoulders on the man and they were sharing a pair of headphones while listening to a song.
“Aah! Young love.” Emily sighed softly. “Bonding over music is the best way to enjoy love. James and I loved our songs too.”
The 33-year-old widow was writing down details of the people she saw on the bus in the note-taking app on her phone. No structure, no purpose, no format. Just thoughts from her observation with a layer of fiction based on her imagination.
She loved writing about the secret lives of strangers. But Emily’s life also had its share of secrecy and eccentricity.
Emily’s husband, James, died mysteriously five years ago. Authorities were unable to find his body. And strangely enough, a few days after James’ funeral, federal agents ransacked their home and took away a bunch of documents and files.
She received a modest amount of money from the insurance company, and nothing else. Apparently, all of James’ files were gone.
While she was still grieving the death of her only love, the ordeal broke Emily. She was left alone to raise her son, then 11, and to maintain a large house in the suburbs that she could no longer afford to manage.
Emily considered moving with her father to the country, but Aron was in his formative years. He had his school, his friends, and a life envisioned by Emily and James in this area. So Emily decided not to make any drastic changes to her and Aron’s lives.
Emily’s father, Richard, supported her decision. In fact, he decided to move in with Emily and Aron to help them. Richard is an auto mechanic, and he has managed to adapt smoothly to suburban life.
The arrangement seemed to work for everyone. Aron was able to continue his studies as usual, Emily took care of the house and pursued her interest in writing short stories, and Richard’s garage brought in a steady income.
Until the day their hopes and dreams were shattered again. Richard slipped and fell in the garage. After further examination, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He had ignored the earlier symptoms because he was worried about his daughter and grandson.
Emily felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. She decided to take matters into her own hands.
She gave up her passion for writing and took a job as a housekeeper at the city hospital. She didn’t even consider moving to a smaller house because it would have affected Aron’s future.
Every day, Emily would get up early in the morning and make breakfast for the three of them. She would prepare lunch, pack it for Aron and herself, and keep a portion of lunch for Richard in the refrigerator. She walked Aron to school and then took the bus to work.
After work, Emily went to the grocery store and got a good discount. Then she came home and made dinner. Right after dinner, she started cleaning the house and doing the laundry.
After that, Emily would put her son to bed and help Richard with his physical therapy exercises. Emily’s schedule is hectic, but she has become much more efficient in a year.
Her commute was the only time for her to secretly combine her love of writing with a silly game. Other than that, she had become a machine. Her routine was the only thing on her mind.
But, seeing the young couple on the bus reminded her of James. She remembered how charming he was when he proposed. How proud he was of the big house they had bought. How happy he was when Aron was born.
The whirlwind of emotions was a little too much for Emily, and she cried on the bus like she hadn’t in years. Soon after, the sound of brakes was followed by the hiss of doors opening. Emily pulled herself together and got off at her stop.
Throughout her shift, Emily was not the machine she had become over the years. She was lost in thought most of the time and had a few episodes of clumsiness on the job. The supervisor realized that Emily was not at her best and asked her to take the day off.
On the way home, Emily reflected on the mess her life had become.
“It’s not fair. It wasn’t meant to be. How did it get so bad? How can I go on without falling apart? What will happen to Aron’s future?” Thoughts raced through Emily’s mind throughout the bus ride.
When she arrived home, she saw a brand new car with a ribbon on it. She thought someone had parked it there by mistake. But she was surprised to see Richard and Aron smiling and waiting behind the car.
“What’s going on?” blurted out Emily, both puzzled and exhausted.
“Congratulations on your new car, Mom!” exclaimed Aron.
“Now you don’t have to struggle every day changing three buses to get to work. Here you go!” said Richard as he handed the keys to Emily.
“Someone explain to me what’s going on,” Emily said as she held the keys to a brand new Buick Encore with tears in her eyes.
Aron and Richard hugged Emily as they entered the house. Richard explained to Emily that they felt terrible about Emily having to struggle to make ends meet. Richard had an excellent knowledge of automobiles and engineering. On the other hand, Aron learned 3D modeling from online tutorials. He was good with computers in general.
One day, when Aron came home from school, Richard suggested that they work together and earn some money to help Emily. Aron suggested they freelance and look for work online. Combining their skills, Aron and Richard designed 3D models of cars for online clients.
Within a few months, they were making a name for themselves on freelancing platforms and getting better paying projects. That’s when they decided to put a down payment and buy a car for Emily so she could save time on her commute and focus on her passion for writing.
Emily couldn’t believe what her son and father were doing for her. It was the first time in years that Emily felt hope. She hugged Aron and Richard and, with a refreshed spirit, began to prepare dinner.
A few years later, Emily, Aron and Richard were featured in a major magazine for their successful web series, “The Adventures of Superspy James.” The series featured short YouTube episodes in which an ordinary man led a secret life of espionage. The artwork was done by Aron, the animation was choreographed by Richard and the episodes were written by Emily.