Sherman Alexie
Sherman a Alexie’s Substack Audio


Short Fiction

For the last three years, while walking to work, I've passed the downtown bus station where a disheveled elderly man mutters to himself as he paces the sidewalk.

"Waiting, waiting, waiting," he chants. That’s all I’ve heard him say in three years.

I don't know if he's homeless or mentally ill—I try not to live by assumption—but he’s certainly odd and has poor hygiene. My curiosity about his biography has grown over the years, but I'd resisted the urge to engage with him. Until yesterday.

“Waiting, waiting, waiting," he chanted.

"What are you waiting for?" I asked.

Surprised, he looked at me. Rapidly blinked his eyes. Wiped his white face with his white hands. I wondered how long it had been since somebody had paid real attention to him.

“My wife died," he said.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“We were married forty years.”

“That’s heartbreaking,” I said and felt stupid and cruel. Of course, it was heartbreaking. He didn’t need me to point that out. But I’ve never known what to say to the grieving people I love, let alone to distraught strangers.

“My wife died of lung cancer,” he said.

“I hate cancer,” I said. Jesus, as if anybody loves cancer.

“My wife died of lung cancer but she never smoked,” he said. “My wife died of lung cancer but she never smoked. My wife died of lung cancer but she never smoked.”

“When did she die?” I asked.

“Twelve years ago,” he said. “But she's going to be on the next bus. The next bus. The next bus.”

I don't know if he was completely delusional, if his wife and marriage were even real, but his eyes were blue hurricanes—destructive and devoted.

“Next bus, next bus, next bus," he chanted.

I have never loved anyone like that. Not my parents. Not my siblings. Not any of the people who’ve shared my bed. I don't think I could survive that kind of love. But I want it. I want to be ferociously waiting and pacing and chanting for somebody who may or may not be arriving.

Don't you want to love like that? Of course, you do. Everybody's madness is the same madness.

Sherman Alexie
Sherman a Alexie’s Substack Audio
Poetry, fiction, and essays by Sherman a alexie
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Sherman Alexie