Book One in the CUSA series
(C) 2017 Adam Cole
Published by Nuncici Press, an imprint of Adam Cole Works LLC
Part One – What Happened to Rosa
Two Aprils Later
It was an old-time bus, stinking of exhaust, the kind that you only ever saw on roads heading out of CUSA. It had some newer parts sticking out around the outsides, and it wasn’t that big. It had old blue painted stripes, and the tires were all worn at the letters. Rosa was scared about that until she got on and saw the smelly pile of tires inside at the back.
Fifteen people followed her and her family. First was Firoz, a tall, skinny waste of a man with black half-circles under his bloodshot eyes. He walked like he didn’t know the ground was there. He didn’t have any luggage except for one tiny bag hanging from his shoulder. He boarded, sat in the back corner of the bus, and looked out the window.
The Kwangs, came on together in a group, starting with an elderly couple who had to hold on to each other every now and then to keep from falling. After them came a big woman who swayed heavily onto her right foot when she walked. Rosa noticed now how every time she did the soft parts of her body would rock over to that side like water sloshing in a bathtub. A dark man, her husband, came next to her, tall and strong like an oak tree. He had to be strong, because half the time his wife had to lean her weight on him.
A younger woman came next, kind of like a miniature version of Mrs. Kwang—maybe a sister, only not as big. From the front you could see she had one eye missing, with a black hole instead. If you saw her from the side with her good eye, she still looked kind of pretty. She was leading three little kids in a line down the aisle, holding the oldest’s hand. The kids followed after her in a train, the very littlest trailing along at the end holding the paw of a stuffed Torture-Me Doll. Now Rosa could see that its ear and part of its face had been chewed off, and the smell of its skin made her feel a little sick. All of them sat together over two rows. They made a lot of noise.
Next came a woman with a tennis-racket case. She was about the same age as Rosa’s Mamma, with a bandana wrapped around her head. The tennis-racket case was the only thing she carried. She put it on the rack above her head and sat down, but she kept looking up at it every few minutes, like she wanted to make sure it stayed put. When she noticed Rosa looking at her she smiled. Rosa wouldn’t smile back.
The last three people to get on the bus were a Chinese couple traveling with a young woman who must have been their daughter. Everyone was shocked at how pretty she was. Even Firoz sat up when these folks came in. You usually never saw anyone that good-looking who wasn’t part of the Corporation. By her face, she could have been a commercial-girl.
Those three kept near the front of the bus, and when they sat down there wasn’t any more room. The whole bus was full of luggage and tires and spare parts and some food rations that were beginning to spoil. There was a little path to the bathroom, but when Rosa went back there she saw that it was just a seat over a potty hole that went straight to the street. You could probably feel a breeze when you went, and it would be even worse when the bus was moving.
When the driver got on she turned to slip into her chair. She didn’t speak to them at all, didn’t check their vouchers, didn’t look to see if everyone was there. She just pulled the door closed and started up the long, slow ramp that took them from 285 to 85 going north. It went way high, higher than Rosa had ever been in the sky before, and for a minute, looking back out the window, she could see all the way to the City Proper, the whole skyline, just like when you flew over it in commercials.
The 285 looked like a cast-off crust of bread with ants crawling around on it. Rosa could see it wind away into the distance to the east, full of stalls with swarms of people living on the old expressway. Just past the curve was Stone Mountain, with all the solar panels reflecting the afternoon sun, winking and blinding her. Scattered south across the skyline beyond the forest were tiny golden prayer arches growing smaller and smaller as they spread out towards the horizon. Then the bus came down and the view was cut off.
They drove for a while pretty quiet. The bus hummed and shook like an overfull washing machine, but it seemed it was going to hold together all right. Nobody used this road anymore except veeps and Uniforms, so there weren’t any other vehicles in sight, just them cruising up the middle of ten lanes all by themselves. You could see the train-tracks off to the side with trains rushing past them to the north.
Everybody was talking just to the people they knew, everybody except for Firoz, who didn’t talk to anybody, and the lady with the tennis-racket case who looked like she was listening to something. Rosa didn’t know what it could be; she couldn’t hear anything except the bus. Whatever the woman heard, she seemed to be enjoying it a lot. She just grinned and tapped her fingers on the seat next to her.
They drove like that for about half an hour. Rosa looked out the window at the vast stretches of outer Atlanta. It looked pretty much like what she knew. Neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood, people walking, people sitting on curbs, strip malls turned into houses, houses turned into supermarkets. Some parts looked nice; other places looked pretty bad. There were blocks dressed up to look proud, surrounded on all sides by old and dead buildings.
The bus driver pulled out onto a ramp leading to a collection of cottages that had snuck up on them. She pulled off to the side of the road. Then she stood up and turned around. She was kind of short. She had straight black hair pulled back into a bun. It just barely peeked out under her blue cap. Her face was pock-marked and tan, and it was perfectly round. She was pretty old, but she looked solid, firm, like if you ran into her she wasn’t going to be the one to fall. “We’re coming into Georgiatown,” she said. She spoke with a little accent Rosa didn’t recognize. “Anybody wants to buy anything, exchange anything, or talk to anyone, you have to do it now. We can’t stop anywhere on the route. Also” —she looked them all in the eye, one by one —“anyone who wants to get off, now’s the time, okay?” She was quiet for a second, just looking at them. Then she said, “I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a very dangerous trip. You know that. You want to get off, do it here. I wouldn’t recommend changing your mind in the Unincorporated States.” She stopped again. She looked down at the floor of the bus. Then she looked up and said, “We don’t give refunds.” She turned around, eased back into her seat, and pulled the bus back on the ramp towards Georgiatown.
Buildings appeared outside the bus windows. Georgiatown had started as a mall. Then during the Correction people started living there, building on top of it. Finally it got so crowded it became its own little Proper. Now it looked like a wedding cake: a group of tall, skinny buildings rising out of one huge base. It was exclusive, like the Proper, but people like Rosa could still visit if they had enough number.
The bus pulled up to a curb and everyone got out. The old mall was like a ruined, deserted castle here. Rosa had thought they would finally see some Shareholders and walk around with them, that they would get to pretend they were big, powerful people with lots of number, even if it was just for a second. But then Mamma told her that the Corporation people all shopped in a different part of Georgiatown, and they didn’t want to mix with people like Rosa’s family.
Where they got to go was pretty lousy. A lot of lawyers’ kiosks and cheap clothing stalls. But when Rosa looked past the dirt she could tell that it had once been a really pretty place. There had been a big glass window in front of every shop, and some still had beautiful pictures and designs on the door. Some even had the old signs hanging above so you could tell what they used to sell. Rosa spent ten minutes just staring at one that used to be a bridal shop. The sign for it was in English. All around it was a picture of a tall, white woman in a pretty gown that draped all over her feet. Rosa asked her Mamma why they used a white woman in the picture. Mamma said that was a picture of the woman who owned the store. Mamma seemed really nervous now, and she didn’t want to answer most of Rosa’s questions. She just kept looking around like she wanted to buy something but couldn’t decide what to get.
Rosa didn’t think they were going to buy anything, but Mamma and Daddy used most of their number for bottles of water. Mamma said their number wasn’t any good on the road. So they bought water bottles, because they could be traded in an emergency.
They didn’t end up with a lot of bottles.
More about Motherless Child
When Rosa’s mother loses her job with the Corporate United States, her family must flee or be killed in an employee purge. Taking the dangerous bus trip across the Unincorporated States, they are ambushed by bandits. Hopelessly separated from her family, Rosa is rescued by the people of Ascension, a small backwoods Virgilna town with a terrible secret.
Seventeen years in the making, Cole’s book about a girl trapped between two Americas serves as a reminder of what the United States has become, and what it still could be.
Adam Cole is an author and music educator in Atlanta, GA. He has written numerous books and stories for children, as well as a number of adult and non-fiction titles including The Girl With the Bow and Seven Ways the World Can End.
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