A novel by Peg Cheng, Draft 1
Chapter 5: Snickers Man
The salty, oily aroma of french fries smacked Sahar in the face as she pushed open the door of the women’s bathroom and stepped out into the crowded Burger King. Her stomach growled but she ignored it and headed outside. Though it was mid-October, the air in Redding, California was hot and dry. Sahar was grateful that in a little over two hours they’d be in Oregon, where she had heard there were Christmas-like trees everywhere.
Groups of passengers stood near the bus, smoking, chatting, and eating greasy fries straight out of the bag. Sahar eyed the bags as she passed by, making sure not to make eye contact with any of their owners. She glanced at the open bus door but the thought of getting back on made her legs ache even more. She walked to a part of the parking lot where there were less people, but where she could still hear the driver calling out boarding time.
She lifted one leg behind her, grabbed her foot with one hand and stretched it back until pain coursed through the front of her thigh. She did not wince, just held her position for a few minutes, then repeated with the other side. Next, she stood with her feet close together and placed her purse on top of them. She stretched both arms up as far as they could go and closed her eyes.
Sahar dropped her arms hastily and straightened out her open coat. It was the Snickers Man, holding out a pack of cigarettes. She shook her head no and stretched her arms straight out in front of her rather than above.
Snickers Man put away the pack and lit the cigarette in his mouth. Long inhale and even longer exhale. “So, where you headed?”
Sahar kept her face a calm mask but her eyes scanned the immediate area. Plenty of people around. No need to panic.
Snickers Man smiled. “Silent type, eh?” He blew a puff of smoke away from her. “How’d you like that candy bar?”
Sahar resisted answering back but she was raised to be polite. She mumbled, “It was good…thank you.”
“I got another one–”
She shook her head.
“You sure? It’s just in my pack. I can get it right now–” Snickers Man made like he was going back toward the bus.
“No.” Sahar softened her voice. “No, thank you.”
“Where you from?” He motioned in the air with his cigarette. “I hear an accent.”
“No, I mean where are you really from?”
Sahar avoided his gaze. “Sac–Sacramento.”
Snickers Man laughed. “Now, you’re just shitting me.” He playfully swiped the air near her. “C’mon, tell me.”
Several people walked by and Sahar tried to make eye contact with them. They just kept walking. Snickers Man opened both arms wide. “Hey, why don’t you answer me?”
Sahar spied the bus driver climbing the steps onto the bus. She reached down for her purse. As she did, the ring around her neck came loose from under her collar and dangled in front.
“Nice rock. You married?” He took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out. “Or divorced?”
Sahar walked away without answering, pulling her purse close to her body. Snickers Man called after her, “Hey! Hey, c’mon.”
After she got on the bus, the driver leaned out the door and yelled, “Five minutes, everyone!”
Sahar sat down in her old seat by the window and placed her purse on the seat next to her. She tucked in her necklace and buttoned her coat all the way up. Her hand reached into her coat pocket and stayed there. Passengers straggled slowly onto the bus. Her heart started beating faster and faster. She looked out the window, scanning the line of passengers.
“Hey.” Snickers Man grabbed her purse and sat down next to her. Too close. He dropped her purse onto the floor and leaned in. He placed his hand on her knee. “You never answered my question–”
Quick as a flash, Sahar flipped out a switchblade from her coat pocket and pushed the tip of the knife against the man’s side right above the waist. The blade was only five inches but it was sharp enough to do some serious damage. Sahar’s blood pounded so hard in her ears that she thought she was going to have a heart attack.
“What the–?” The man jolted up. He shoved his way back towards his original seat, saying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Psycho bitch.”
Sahar face flushed as she closed the blade and slipped it back into her pocket. Passengers turned to look at her. The men filed away in their brains: don’t hit on that one. The women gave her a knowing look: been there, sister.
It took a good hour for her breathing to return to normal. It took another four hours for her to stop worrying. But when Snickers Man finally disembarked in Portland, he glanced back at her with a strange look. It took a minute for her to register what it was. Fear. Dear God, it was fear. When the bus took off again, she smiled to herself, settled back in her seat, and stroked the switchblade in her pocket as if it were a pet mouse.
Photo of Snickers by Evan-Amos