Once a week, at exactly sixteen minutes past three o'clock, both attentive and oblivious pedestrians scatter from the front of Bob's Bagels in anticipation of the number 10 bus that consistently and frantically barrels down a bustling Pinecrest Avenue.
This particular bus never stops for anyone or follows any form of traffic regulation, honking instead to inform you of its considerable haste.
On the bus today are nine people comfortably nestled on the velour covered seats. They are God, the Angel of Death, the archangel Gabriel, the Devil, Richard Nixon, Saint Christopher, Saint Martha, Saint Sebastian and Rory Gibson.
"All I was saying was, 'I don't see why I have to drive all the time'. I have tendonitis."
"Oh, boo hoo. Dude, you're Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travel. You figure it out."
"So? Just because you're the Devil doesn't mean you have to be unpleasant all the time."
"I'm evil personified, so yeah, it actually does mean I have to be. Besides, I was kicked out of freakin' heaven! I'm entitled."
"Are you still crying about that? It happened eons ago, let it go."
"And technically, it was your fault." Saint Sebastian adds in earnestly.
"Sebastian wants in on this? Ok! YOU try spending the rest of eternity with Hitler talking your ear off when all you want is to finish your green tea and Sudoku puzzle and see if YOU don't develop contempt and bitterness. And now he's trying to convert my demons to socialists! That guy does not shut up. Stupid humans."
Years ago, after unrelenting clamor against ennui by a plethora of angels, it occurred to God that to alleviate the boredom in Heaven, field trips would be offered once a week to any unanimously voted points of interest. It all started when a few saints, Pope Stephen I,
the Devil, Jesus and God attended the black tie London Symphony Orchestra performance in Sydney, Australia.
"Why is the Devil here?" inquired Jesus at intermission.
"Hell gets boring too, son. He asked if he could tag along and I said yes." God replied.
"But he's the Devil. He tried to overthrow you in your own kingdom."
"With the exception of myself, we all make mistakes every once in awhile. Isn't that right Lucifer?"
"You know it." replied the Devil before giving Jesus a malicious glance, adding, "Your dad and I are cool now."
After much deliberation, the Angel of Deaths' suggestion of the Museum of Fine Arts came out the clear favorite for the next day's outing.
"The death business can be a real bummer, man. Just before I take them with me, they get that look in their eyes: silently pleading for a few minutes longer to mend any lingering regrets they may have. And trust me, they all do it. I can't even sleep anymore because I'm having dreadful nightmares of all those doleful eyes. I tried yoga and pilates to take my mind off things but they did no good until I got into symbolist painters, especially works by Klimt and Munch. It seems to put me in a relaxed state of mind so I'm able to perform my job more efficiently."
"Anyone who can do what you do gets my vote." Richard Nixon chimed in.
The committee agreed. And it was so.
On the bus also sits Rory Gibson. Earlier this brisk October morning, Rory remembered that exactly eleven months ago today, Katherine Gibson, Rory's mother, was killed by a drunk driver as the two of them came back from church. He survived the accident but still had to watch his mother die as she lay trapped under the offender's car. Rory was never the same again.
After another tumultuous day at Jefferson High School laden with incessant taunting because of the facial deformities caused by his accident, Rory hastily got on the first bus that came his way as he wiped the tears streaming from his eyes. It was the number 10.
"You're picking people up now?" the Devil muttered annoyingly to Saint Christopher.
"It's ok, this one is supposed to come aboard." God calmly retorted.
"Speaking of, where's Jesus?" the Devil asked loudly.
"Don't look at me." God replied, adding, "He's a grown man, he does as he pleases."
"He's at the dog track with Frank Sinatra." Gabriel answered.
"Damn. He told me he'd pay me back my $50 today. Figures. He hates me, doesn't he?"
"Well, you did try to knock off his dad."
Though well mannered, Rory possesses no strength of character, thereby making him exceptionally introverted, causing continuous feelings of inadequacy within him. Through his lifeless eyes, his languid spirit watches the world moving on: rich old ladies in Prada track suits power walking with their poodles, hipsters in skinny jeans trying not to look uncomfortable as Marlboros dangle from their lips. The elementary school children are heading home. Rory watches the few who have strayed off from the rest, their childlike simplicity finding joy in the simplest of things. It will be years before these trusting creatures encounter the disappointment life waits to confide them.
"Hello." God approaches Rory cautiously.
"Your name is Rory."
A sheepish nod.
"I know your mother."
At the mention of his mother, Rory turns to God, his nine-year-old mournful eyes sobering Gods faculties.
"You know my mother?"
"I do. You miss her don't you?"
"I think about her everyday. I wish she didn't have to die."
"What if I told you I can take you to where she is? Would you want that?"
Rory's eyes light up, the dejected mannerisms disappearing from his cherub-like face.
"Never mind how, would you want to?"
God produces a rectangular gift tucked from behind his back.
"She asked me to give this to you when the time was right."
Rory tears through the wrapping paper feverishly, unable to contain his youthful exuberance as if his life depends on how long it takes him to get to what lies underneath.
"It's a self portrait of your mother standing in front of the country house you grew up in. Go ahead and look at it."
The vivid hues of the foliage seem to bring the painting to life. Intrigued, Rory leans closer. Blowing rapidly down the cobblestone road, the yellow leaves turn a dazzling gold, the red leaves burn a deep, unnatural maroon, more beautiful than reality, and the dark orange leaves fade around their edges, as if they can't decide which color they want to be. He peers closer still, desperately wishing to be there, in that place so far away and so long ago. His senses seem to respond to his subconscious desires and he blinks back startled tears when he suddenly inhales the scent of wood smoke, feels a cold wind stirring, and notices a movement in the distance. Distant from approach, tucked among serene evergreens, the screen door to the country house opens and a woman emerges dressed in cropped pants and a cotton sweater. She hurriedly advances through the autumn air, not being able to contain the unabashed excitement of seeing her son.