In the City, part 1

The bus lurched to a stop, nearly throwing the young couple standing at the front into the greenish windshield. The woman, who was not only pregnant but overdue, cried out as she stumbled into the metal handle that worked the doors. The man, off-balance himself, tried to steady her without falling down the corrugated stairs. He shot an angry look at the driver before they dismounted, but the driver only grunted as he swung the doors shut behind them and lurched back into traffic.

It had been a long trip, and they were not used to traveling. So they stood for a minute near the curb, their single battered suitcase in hand, not quite ready to enter the swift currents of people that flooded the sidewalks, not quite sure which direction they should aim for once they did. They had never been to Chicago before, and they wished they weren’t here now.

Joe and Mary Davidson were from tiny Princeton, Iowa. He was a welder, as his father had been. She was an old-fashioned girl, quiet and intelligent. Joe worked at the smallest branch division of a large, multi-million-dollar, nation-wide company, where he was one insignificant name way at the bottom of the organizational chart. In a world divided neatly into workers and bosses, Joe was clearly a worker.

It was Joe’s job with this company that had brought them to Chicago. A new, young Ivy-Leaguer had taken over at the top, and in a show of power thinly disguised as “company spirit,” he had decreed that everyone attend the annual convention. This year it was in Chicago.

Mary’s pregnancy was no excuse for Joe not to attend. Every employee, from CEO to mailroom clerk, was expected to be in Chicago this weekend. Whoever wasn’t could expect to find somewhere else to work come Monday morning. It was that simple. So Joe and Mary found themselves making the journey.

Still standing at the curb, they looked around for a few minutes in frustrated apprehension. Then they smiled weakly at each other, grasped hands, and stepped gingerly into the current, where they were quickly swept away by the tide of humanity.

Somehow they managed to find the hotel that had been booked by the company. Joe looked around in the lobby for anyone he knew or anything that seemed familiar, but, finding no one and nothing, he worked up the courage to face the desk clerk on his own. He waited quietly by the counter for the man to look up from his computer. After a few minutes of being ignored, he shifted his balance and tried to make an unobtrusive noise. The clerk looked up.

“Yes?” he asked, confused by the presence of someone like Joe in a hotel like this.

Having now got the man’s attention, Joe wasn’t sure what to do with it. “We’re—uh—we—,” he indicated his wife, “—we need someplace to stay,” he stammered.

“Sorry, we’re booked.” The man returned to his work. “Big convention this weekend. No rooms left.”

“Yes, see, that’s why we’re here,” Joe began. “We’re here for the convention.”

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” The clerk put on his customer-service smile and looked attentive. “What’s the name?”

Relieved to finally begin feeling as if they belonged, Joe gave the man his name and waited while he looked up their reservation. He grew just a little bit worried as the clerk punched in code after code in an attempt to call up the Davidsons’ records. He wondered if everything was going to be alright.

city Christmas story
Original artwork by Sharon Ruane, copyright 2010. Artist note: “I like the jumbled city because it feels confused like Mary and Joseph do.”

Continued next week