She's beautiful. Short hair, coal black eyes and a face straight out of Modigliani. Loose gray sweater, dark blue tights. The kind of legs that have spent long hours at the gym. Dancer's legs. The light from the street lamp outlining her in gold. A downtown Danae. A bus stop Venus.
He reminds himself he mustn't stare. Pretends to go back to his magazine, holding it up high in the air, hoping she'll notice it's the New Yorker and be impressed. Thinking to himself, yes, I really am that shallow.
Feeling strangely elated that it's been fifteen minutes since she got here and the bus still hasn't come.
She doesn't seem too happy about it though. In fact, she seems positively anxious. Keeps looking at her watch, biting her lip. A meeting with her boyfriend? A hot date? Not in those clothes. Besides, it's a school night. She can't be more than 20. Probably off to study with a friend. A female friend. He pictures someone appropriately shapeless and dowdy, wonders if he should ask her if she's at UPenn, tell her he's there too, strike up a conversation. Do girls like her find men with PhDs attractive?
Foolishness. No way he's going to have the nerve to actually talk to her. Any minute now the bus will come along and that'll be the end of that. He peers up the road. No sign of it. It really is taking its time. Another stolen glance at her. She's moved closer. She's walking up to him! Oh God!
"Excuse me". A beautiful voice, warm and mellow. Not one of those annoyingly shrill undergrad voices he's come to hate.
Looks up. Smiles. Tries to act natural. "Yes?"
"Do you have a phone?"
"A what?" A what?
"A phone? You know, like a mobile?" She's miming talking on the phone now. She probably thinks he's some kind of cretin who doesn't understand English. Ye gods.
"A phone! Yes, yes, of course I do."
"Could I borrow it to make a quick call? I just need to let my folks at home know that I'm running late. Please."
"Oh...errrr...I guess. I mean. Yes, yes, of course". That's right. Overwhelm her with your wit, why don't you?
"Thanks. I'll only be a minute". Smile of quick gratitude.
Handing over his phone, he is suddenly gripped by doubt. What is he doing? He just handed over his phone to a complete stranger. What if she's a thief? What if she runs off with his phone? What if 'home' is in some little known East European country and he gets slapped with a hundred dollar bill? What is he thinking? He's like one of those fat, balding rubes in the movies who get suckered out of a million dollars because Catherine Zeta-Jones smiled at them.
"Sorry, but how do you dial out on this thing? I've never used a Nokia before."
"Let me show you". Quick glance at the number. US area code. Phew. "See this little green handset thing here? You just press that. Like so. There, it's dialling now."
Another grateful smile. He's being needlessly paranoid. As usual. As if a girl like this is going to risk a prison sentence for some pathetic two year old phone. Incredible how suspicious he can be sometimes. Got to have more faith in other people. Got to learn to trust one's fellow man. Or woman.
But wait. What if she's a terrorist of some sort? What if right at this minute she's calling to report to her headquarters? What if tomorrow the FBI traces this call back to him and comes at four in the morning and kicks in his door and takes him away? A fine story he'll have to give them. It wasn't me who made the call, officer, honest - there was this beautiful girl at the bus stop and she asked me for my phone so I gave it to her. How was I to know that her call would set off a nuclear detonator, blow up half of Manhattan? No, no, of course I don't know her name. Or where she lives. I'd never seen her before in my life. Or since. No, really, I'm telling you the truth.
They'd never believe him, of course. He could imagine the grim faces of the jury as they condemned him to the electric chair. Actually, come to think of it, there wouldn't even be a jury, would there? They'd probably smuggle him off to Guantanamo or one of those places and torture him till he confessed. Nobody'd ever hear from him again. And all because some cute girl asked him for his phone and he handed it over like a grinning idiot.
He tries listening in on her conversation. "No mom, I'm on my way home, honest. It's just that the bus is late. I can't help that, now, can I? I'll be home in an hour, I promise. Bye." Hmmm. It sounded normal enough. Too normal. It was probably some kind of code. The 'bus' is some kind of secret explosive, 'mom' is the terrorist kingpin, 'home' the intended target. In an hour, she said. God alone knows what they have planned.
She's handing the phone back to him now, smiling. Him and his stupid fantasies. Of course this girl is not a terrorist. I mean, what are the odds? Would a real terrorist be travelling around by bus and relying on a stranger's cellphone to send vital messages? Of course not. Besides, all terrorist are bearded Arab looking men. Everyone knows that.
"The bus service is really pathetic, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
"What's that you're reading?"
(A-ha!) "It's the New Yorker."
"I thought so. Is that the latest issue? I was reading it just this morning. Are you a subscriber?"
"Absolutely. Read the whole thing cover to cover every week. As Anthony Lane said at this talk he was giving the other day, I'm one of those people who know all about Poke Boats and American Leaf Charm Bracelets."
"You mean you actually went for that Anthony Lane talk? Oh, wow! I so wanted to go for that. What was it like? I adore Anthony Lane."
"Yes, he's great isn't he? Did you read his review of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette this week? He BUTCHERS it."
"Ya, it was brilliant. Though I'll probably still go see the movie."
"Ya, me too."
"Meanwhile, the bus service still sucks." (Great. The only thing worse than not having anything to say is letting the other person know that you have nothing to say.)
"You're in a hurry aren't you? I noticed you glancing at your watch earlier."
"No actually, it's fine now. I just needed to let the folks at home know that I was running late. My cell died you see. Anyway, thanks to you I'm not in a rush anymore."
"I see. Good, good."
Pause. He takes a deep breath. Summons up courage he didn't know he had.
"Listen, given that there's no sign of this bus ever showing up, you want to maybe grab a cup of coffee? I mean, well, it's cold, and there's a coffee shop right around the corner. Only if you're really not in a hurry that is."
Holds his breath.
"Ya, sure." She grins.
Somewhere a detonator ticks down to its final second. The explosion takes out half the city.