Eny stopped writing and glanced up from her notebook as the bus bounded over a pothole and rumbled through the intersection at Hollywood and Highland. Someone in the seat behind her had tapped her on the shoulder: tap … and then again, tap … ever so lightly. Or so she thought. She turned to see who it was. The seat was empty.
Eny shook her head.
They must think I’m a complete idiot.
With a cool eye she scanned the rows of seats between her own and the back of the bus. The corners of her mouth turned upward in a grim smile. Inaiah and Randall. Just as she had suspected.
Inaiah and Randall were a pair of troublemakers from her algebra class. The same pair who had apparently entered into a dark and solemn pact to make her life as miserable as possible. They were sitting about five rows back, staring innocently out the window at the imposing façade of the Egyptian Theater. Eny aimed a smirk in their direction. They didn’t seem to notice.
Without a word, she tucked a loose strand of coppery hair behind her ear and went back to her poem:
L. A. in the barren heat
Inclines my soul to bleak defeat …
No, she thought. She bit her lip and squinted at what she’d written. Inverting the pencil, she scrubbed it out and tried again—
L. A. in the autumn heat—
Withered dreams, barren street …
Thok! Something small but hard and forceful, like the fillip of a flicked fingertip, struck her directly on the back of the head. She spun around just in time to see the two boys duck down in their seats, showing her only the tops of their inverted baseball caps. Sounds of muffled laughter rose above the low growl of the bus’s engine. Eny shot an inquiring glance at an elderly woman in a shawl and frumpy purple dress sitting two rows behind her. The woman returned her look with a non-committal shrug.
Once again she attempted to concentrate on her rhymes:
Pierced by the pitiless glare on glass
Of cars and buses as they pass …
Splat! Starting violently, she dropped the notebook and reached up to touch the back of her hair. In disgust she flung the spit-wad out the window and wheeled fiercely on her assailants who were now laughing and jeering openly. The old woman, who was busy searching for something in her bag, appeared not to have witnessed the assault.
Eny felt her neck stiffen. Her jaw clenched and a burning clot of red-hot anger welled up behind her eyes. Desperately she fought to remember everything her father had ever told her about self-control. Turn the other cheek, she thought. Trembling with the effort, she reined in her fury, faced forward, and returned to her composition for the third time:
My thoughts stray to another world
In comfortable gray encurled …
“Aaak!” shrieked the old woman. Dink! went the bell telling the driver that a passenger wanted to get off. Once more Eny looked back over her shoulder. Apparently somebody’s aim had gone astray. The old lady, with a distressed expression on her face, was cursing and pawing the back of her neck. Reaching into her backpack, Eny found an unused tissue and offered it to her. As she did, the brakes squealed and groaned, the driver pulled over to the curb, and a tall, lanky man in a hooded sweatshirt stood up at the back of the bus.
She was not prepared for what happened next. With one big-knuckled hand the tall man gripped Inaiah by the shoulder. With the other he seized Randall by the scruff of his collar. Yanking the pair to their feet, he drove them to the front of the bus and escorted them down the steps just as the door hissed open with a whoosh. It was all over in fifteen seconds.
Eny craned her neck and tried to get a better look at the man as he stood there on the pavement with the two culprits firmly in hand. The soup kitchen, she thought—perhaps that was where she had seen him before. He had his hood drawn up over his head, so it was difficult to be sure. But as the bus pulled away he turned and gave her a momentary glimpse of his face—a narrow, craggy face with deep-set, sky-blue eyes. At the sight of it, she gasped and caught her breath. Then the bus lurched forward and the vision was gone.
Stunned and speechless, she stumbled off the bus at Gower Street and moved numbly up the sidewalk. She had no explanation for the strange event she’d just witnessed. Nor could she account for the emotions it had stirred in her. She felt certain that she did not know the man who had delivered her from her tormentors. And yet …
The more she thought about it, the more her brain began to reel. As if in a daze she walked the two blocks north to the Presbyterian Church. Its tall brick tower, which reminded her strongly of the shattered tower of St. Halistan’s, loomed above her in the shimmering heat. And as its shadow fell across her path another vision rose up before her mind’s eye: a vision of storm and wind and darkness, of giants and flying ships, of lightning and thunder and a gallant figure wielding a glittering sword.
This vision hung in the air during the time it took to draw two long breaths. Then it dissolved like smoke. As it faded, Eny saw a big black crow flutter down from the top of the tower and alight upon a windowsill just above her head. It cocked its eye at her and croaked loudly.
Hitching up her backpack, she picked up her feet and ran as fast as she could to meet her mother at the soup kitchen.
(To be continued …)
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