Last month, the National Association for Pupil Transportation was holding its 27th annual conference and trade show in Nashville, and I flew in from Los Angeles to attend. When I finally located my room, M5389 (Magnolia section, fifth floor, room 389), I was too exhausted even to bemoan the 20-minute expedition through the labyrinth hallways of the Opryland Hotel. I dumped my garment bag onto one of the double beds, turned on the television, turned down the volume and promptly fell asleep on the other double bed. Here is what I dreamed
A small girl wakes up. It’s dark. The vinyl bench seat on which she lies is terribly cold. Her head hurts, and her arms and legs are stiff and nearly numb. She draws herself up, like her cat, Winston, and crawls out of the seat and into the aisle. She realizes now that she’s on her school bus and suddenly feels afraid. Her bus driver, Franny, who normally checks to make sure that she’s gotten off at her stop in the afternoon is nowhere to be found. The bus is quiet and cold and parked with several other buses, also quiet and cold. She tries to make sense of her plight. She’s alone on her school bus, and doesn’t know how to get off. Without Franny to open the door, she feels trapped. It’s getting colder and darker. She can hear traffic in the distance, a small comfort anyway. It’s better than silence or the husky sound of her breathing that has become fast and shallow. She remembers that it’s Friday night. Her parents take her to the shopping mall on Friday night and eat in the food court. She normally eats a hamburger, but has recently developed a taste for the Chinese food in the small white cartons. She starts to cry. After a minute, she goes to the window and screams until she’s out of breath. There’s no one in the parking lot. The bus that seemed so friendly and comforting in the daytime has become her enemy. She unsuccessfully tries to squeeze through a window. She can’t budge the handle on the emergency door in the back of the bus. The effort makes her tired, but warms her, for the moment. She sits down and, after a short time, begins to shiver uncontrollably. She thinks of the warm bath that her mother draws for her nightly and the liquid soap that she adds to the water to make it bubble and smell like perfume. She curls into a ball, like Winston, and tries to stop shaking. The last week has seen a cold front move into the area. Temperatures have dropped into the 20s overnight. Skiers are hoping for some snow in the mountains. The small girl wraps herself more tightly into her favorite red jacket. The sleeves are a little short, but she expects to get a new jacket for Christmas. Last year, Santa brought her Winston, a small, gray kitten who has grown a lot since then. She promised to feed Winston every day, but her mother took over that chore within a week or so. She was too young to use a can opener, and Winston wouldn’t eat the dry food. Suddenly, she thinks she hears something right outside the bus and hopes it is Franny or her parents or anyone, but she is too tired to get up and look. She starts crying again and wishes she had some tissues to wipe her nose. But soon she falls asleep, with the coldness and darkness whispering in her ear. Was it a dream?
OK. This isn’t what I dreamed. I just needed an excuse to remind everyone to check their buses for sleeping children, especially now that winter’s almost here. Let’s make sure that this "dream" never comes true. Happy holidays.