Ten fifteen. Good! I told myself. The last bus will be crowded. Time to check my suitcases. Main Street was not dark this time of night. Street lights, neon signs, open shops — people milling, auto traffic, clanging of streetcars. This was the part of town that never slept. The suitcases pressed against my legs — people jostled.
BUS DEPOT. The sign loomed large now. Taxicabs stood lined waiting for the next influx. Traffic signals blinked, bells clanged. And now a view of the buses, Goliaths of the highway, line after line of them. One roars, its engine gathering strength for the long journey — forward, and its mass draws ahead onto the street. Window after window reveals but a shadowy face in the light of the street. There they go in the night.
I sandwiched myself in among the surging crowd, entered the swinging doors. Each ticket booth was a swarming hive. Tickets south, tickets north, tickets east. Long-distance reservations.
Beyond were the benches — rows of them where people sat enduring the tiresome minutes. Once there was a flurry, a movement here and there, and a scrambling for seats by those standing. Above the din reached a voice, impersonal, mechanical — "Buses now loading at Gate Four for Bakersfield, Fresno, Oakland, and San Francisco." "Buses arriving Gate One from San Diego."
I set down my suitcases, relaxed against a post and began to think of the many times my travels had brought me through the swinging door — alone, or with friends and relatives. At night, early in the morning, at mid-day. A depot marks beginning points, often ending points in one's destiny. I left here to don a uniform. I came back here when I had taken it off. I brought my wife here.
I looked closer at the faces. Soon enough I could fit them into one of three classes: those who were going away, those who had just arrived, those who came to say good-bye or to say hello.
Three young girls sat in a huddle. They were traveling together. Their tones and faces revealed Vacation.
A sterner face, shadowed by a broad-brimmed hat, breathed a cloud of smoke. His manner was tense. He was strangely out of place from those wide broad acres of upland pasture where a man can sit straight in the saddle.
A Mexican woman held a sleeping baby. One little boy dozed against her waist. A third sat with a bag of popcorn from the vending machine, dropping little pieces on the seat and on the floor. What were this woman's thoughts as she clung to her brood and considered the long journey ahead?
Soldiers returning to barracks and drill-fields. A minister over there, who looks into the eyes of the people who pass by.
Some go to weddings, some come from funerals, some go to work, others come to frolic and loaf.
Bus Depot? Yes, but more. Like some aorta which connects the heart of a city to all parts of the state, the country, and the world. A life-line of destiny.
Bus by bus, minute by minute, hour by hour the scene changes. New comers, new departers. Each hour brings new laughter, new tears.
Is this humanity? — like the humanity of a galaxy of faces that the contestants see in a Yankee Stadium or a Wrigley Field? Is this the orphan humanity, the unawakened, who laugh, who cry, who come and who embark to travel those long miles?
Or are there Angels, who in the Christian phrase, pause to record each tear, each smile, each passing thought, and record it indelibly for the soul of each?
Are there Divinities who consider the uniqueness of each single individual — who seek him even in a crowded bus depot, and touch him with Their presence?
In a strange way my answer came.
Passing down the corridor — I had vaguely noticed him — was the newsboy. His manner drew my attention. He was a man aged. His hair was white, but he walked quietly and erect. The least of his interests, it seemed, was his newspapers, a few carried under one arm. He did not call out his papers nor even seem anxious to sell them.
In all the hubbub of the station he was the calm one. He looked at every face, quietly, friendly, a sort of silent sympathy. He would reach and pat a child, and praise its good behavior to its mother. He would convey a blessing in his eyes to a couple of sweethearts. I studied him and felt that he carried a power with him.
I reasoned. He just likes people, likes to be among them. He dresses plainly, but well. Perhaps he is retired from a steady job and likes to feel he is kept busy selling papers.
But reasoning did no good. The fact remained: all the people he had passed seemed calmed, inwardly rejuvenated. Like a magnet he had drawn forth from each one on the bench the goodness, the patience, the hope which were himself.
I felt better for watching this scene. This man, ripened in years, and it would seem, in soul, not only liked people, but he radiated love for them.
Now I was interested. Who was he? Is this such an one as a benevolent and compassionate Shepherd places among his flock as they are led to new pastures? Surely it is no chance that he is here!
But common-sense determined to rule the mind. This was fancy, my imagination. Just a newsboy, just a friendly man. There was no magic in that face or in those eyes.
But the white-haired man continued his course among the people. He slowly passed the line in my direction, taking the time to say a word, or smile at each. Yet inconspicuously, so that not one gave him much notice.
Finally he came to where I was standing. I felt a twinge of conscience at having kept him in my thoughts these many minutes.
His eyes met mine for a brief instant. Out went my practicality, out went my common-sense. I knew. In one brief instant he answered all my questions.
No human being travels alone. The Shepherd and all his helpers have counted every sheep and every lamb. They know every inch of the path that leads to other pastures.
The shepherds are there. At the depot, on the dark highway, in the street and alley. Some shepherd might be a newsboy.
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