As he walked toward the bus station, his expensive leather shoes went scrape-slap, scrape-slap, against the unforgiving New York pavement. To anybody watching he was just another businessman, weary from a long day at the office. Scrape-slap, the song of feet in no hurry to reach their destination. Each breath escaped his body and exploded into a tiny cloud before being whipped away by the sharp city wind. It was cold, but at least it hadn't snowed, well not yet.
He took a seat in the glass shelter, a structure that disgraced its name for it provided no shelter at all. His mobile binged with a text from his wife, she was wondering if she should hold dinner for him. He punched in a reply that read, "Got to work late, start without me."
It was a lie, he'd finished early, but he needed some space. It wasn't his wife or kids that he was trying to escape from, the problem was him. Whenever he felt like this he was never running away, he was running toward something. It was an incredibly difficult feeling to explain to anyone, so he'd never tried. It was as if life, his life, were a pair of shoes a half size too small, it just didn't fit him.
His hand slid into his coat pocket and caressed his treasure chest, his most precious possession and his greatest mystery. Like all mystery's it only took perseverance to crack it, that and a little bit of luck.
An old man shuffles into the shelter and takes the space beside him. The new arrival smells faintly of mothballs, but he didn't mind. He'd gotten some of his greatest insights from the most unusual sources. One of the most interesting had come from a man just like this one and on a bus of all places. It had happened years ago when he had been newly married. An old war vet had taken a seat beside him and just began talking. As they journeyed they'd talked about the war and how pointless it had been, they talked about government and how one was the same as the other, they talked about job's, music, and in the end, they talked about love.
The old man smiled and said, "You see, in the beginning, God made men and women."
"You're not going to get all religious on me?" he'd said as a joke.
"Just wait on the story, whippersnapper," said the old warrior, giving him a gentle elbow to the rib.
"Like I said, God built man, but he'd made a huge mistake. When it came to giving him a soul, he forgot to leave enough room inside. He had done so much work already it didn't seem right to wipe it all out and start again. So, in his infinite wisdom, he broke the souls in half, giving every human a piece, and that is love. It's what we are all looking for, the one, that special person but what we're really looking for is the other half of our own soul. Now, most people never really find their other half, but if you do, there is no mistaking the feeling. When you hold that person, it’s like you’re whole, for the very first time."
"And, did you?" he asked the old man. The vet smiled and nodded. "Sure did, for twenty-four glorious years."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be, twenty-four is more than most get and don't forget, I'll be seeing her again soon," he said without a hint of sadness and with a backward wave, he got off the bus.
The memories were warm, but his fingers were cold as they removed his treasure chest from the coat pocket. It wasn't made of gold or even silver, the things he valued more than life itself were housed in an old tobacco tin. He opened the lid and flipped over a yellowed paper to reveal a key, a penknife and a ticket stub resting in the bottom of the tin.
First, he picked up the key and lovingly turned it over in his fingers. It opened a blue door which lay at the top of four timber steps. A heavy lion-head knocker would land with a solid thunk when it was playfully slammed by boyish hands. He replaced the key and touched the penknife, a gift from his father, but one that came with a warning. "You're old enough for this, but only if you're responsible, I know you will be." Responsible, a word he'd lived his whole life by.
Then he gazed upon the ticket stub, something so valuable he dared not even touch it for fear he'd wear away the ever fading ink. "Zoo," it said, a stolen day over thirty years ago and what he remembered most was her smile and the way she felt in his arms. The old man had been right, it was like holding a part of himself. They had fitted seamlessly. Thirty years, how the time had flown.
His wandering mind was hauled back to the present by the down-shifting of a heavy diesel engine. He closed the lid on his treasures as the bus pulled up before him. As the crowd boarded, he felt his pulse begin to race, it always did just before he asked his question. Today might be the day he got the answer he longed for. He climbed on and stood before the driver.
"Where to pal?"
"I want to go home."
The driver gave him the same look a thousand before he had given, a look given to a fruitcake when you work with the public every single day.
"Look, Guy, tell me a stop or get off the bus."
Blanketed in defeat, he said, "Jersey," and handed over his cash. The driver punched the ticket and took the money. He picked a seat by the window and as the last of the passengers boarded he opened his treasure chest once more. This time he lifted out the yellowed paper and counted all the stops on the map from New York Central to New Jersey. Anyone of them could be his home. He knew nothing, not even his name and this scrap of paper was his only clue.
Thirty-one years ago a teenager had been found in a back alley with no wallet, no ID and a head injury that left him in a coma for over a month. When he woke, he could remember nothing more than glimpses of his past. The things found on that boy now rested in a rusting tobacco tin, his teenage years in a tiny box.
Since then, he’d ridden this same route, always asking his question in the hope that one driver, one day would say, "Sure, I know you kid." He still hoped against hope that it would happen because it was the only way he could find his way home, into her arms.