Afternoon was Mrs. Conroy's favorite time of day. After a hard day at work, her eyes were tired and her feet hurt. She enjoyed the nice long nap she took on the bus. Mrs. Conroy had made friends with the bus driver, Mr. Angstrom. He always woke her up before her stop. She usually felt fresh as a daisy when she got off the bus.
But today was different. Mr. Angstrom wasn't driving. A small man in a wrinkled uniform sat in the driver's seat.
"Where's Mr. Angstrom?" asked Mrs. Conroy, dropping her money into the box.
"I don't know. Sick, I guess. I just work here, lady. Step to the rear."
Mrs. Conroy hoped that Mr. Angstrom was all right. She didn't like this new driver. She decided not to sleep on the way home today. She didn't want to ask this driver to wake her. He didn't look like the type who'd want to do anyone a favor.
Mrs. Conroy looked out the window. It was a warm afternoon. Though she tried to keep her eyes open, the gentle rocking of the bus had a lulling effect. Within a few minutes her eyes closed. Her head dropped to her shoulders. In spite of herself, Mrs. Conroy fell fast asleep.
The next thing Mrs. Conroy knew, a hand was on her shoulder. Someone was shaking her awake.
"Wake up, lady. We've come to the end of the line. Wake up."
Mrs. Conroy blinked and opened her eyes. The bus driver looked down at her. "I said, this is the end of the line, lady. Time to get off the bus."
Mrs. Conroy peered out the window. "Where am I?" she asked. "I was supposed to get off at Essex Avenue."
"You're at the last stop, lady. Come on, get off the bus. I have a schedule to keep to."
Mrs. Conroy was having trouble waking up. She staggered to her feet. The bus driver took her arm and helped her down the aisle. As she stepped off the bus, she felt a sense of panic. "Wait a minute," she said in a shrill voice. "This isn't Essex Avenue. Where am I? How can I get home?"
"Cool off, lady. I told you, you're at the end of the line. We all make it here sooner or later."
"But why can't I ride back with you?" she pleaded. "I have the fare!"
"Sorry, lady," he said as he closed the door. "It's against the rules."
Mrs. Conroy watched the bus disappear down the road. She looked around and tried to figure out what part of the city she was in. Suddenly the sun seemed awfully bright.
Mrs. Conroy squinted. She didn't recognize this place. There were no trees around, no street signs, and no people. The city seemed to have ended miles back. She couldn't get her bearings. There was nothing to see in any direction. Nothing at all. Mrs. Conroy wondered if she were still dreaming.
"Are you ready, Madam?"
The voice came from behind her. Mrs. Conroy whirled around, her heart beating rapidly.
"Who? What? Are you speaking to me?"
A tall, handsome man in a blue pin-striped suit stepped forward. His suit reminded her of the one that her boss, Mr. Burton, always wore. What was a businessman doing so far out here in the country?
The man smiled. "Yes, Mrs. Conroy. I've come to meet you. It's time to go now."
"Go where? What are you talking about? And how do you know my name?" The man in the blue suit smiled.
"I know it must be very confusing, Mrs. Conroy. Most people seem to feel that way at first. But as we go along, everything will become quite clear." He took her by the arm. "It's all right," he said kindly. "Just come with me."
"No! I'm not going anywhere with you. Why should I? I don't even know who you are," Mrs. Conroy said. She pulled away from the man and stepped back.
The man smiled gently. "I'm only an assistant, Mrs. Conroy," he said.
"Well, Mr. Assistant, there must be some mistake. I just fell asleep and stayed on the bus too long. Then the driver made me get off. He wouldn't take me back with him! He talked some nonsense about rules. I'm going to call the company and report him!"
"He was just doing his job, Mrs. Conroy," the man said patiently.
"But he left me out here alone," Mrs. Conroy said. "Now it's getting late. I have to get home and fix dinner. What kind of bus driver refuses to take passengers?"
The man in the blue suit stepped toward Mrs. Conroy and took her arm again. This time she didn't resist. He patted her hand and smiled down at her. "You'll have to forgive the driver for being rude, Mrs. Conroy. He's new at the job. But he was only following orders. You see, Mrs. Conroy, this is the end of the line. You don't have to worry about getting home and fixing dinner.Our passengers only go one way."