GOING WEST

by Lorraine Anderson

The old man sat back in his bus seat with a sigh. It had been a long, long journey to get even here. He pushed up the sleeves of his old flannel shirt and folded his thin, brown arms across his chest, closing his eyes. He was exhausted.

He was goin' West. He smiled. "Going West" was an old, old sayin' that meant that someone had passed onwards to meet the Lord. He remembered that from when he was young. He knew this

would be his last journey, but he didn't figure on passin' onward just yet. Not until he got where he was goin'.

Someone sat down beside him, and he opened his eyes a crack to make sure. . . to make sure it wasn't one of them. The young woman-a child, really. . . a white child with long blonde hair and flashing light earrings and a nose ring and cutoff jeans-she turned away from him. Getting up slightly, she waved to some older folks outside the opposite window. Then, sitting down with a frown, she pulled a textbook from a blue backpack. He sighed and closed his eyes. A college student, then. No problems.

He smelled diesel smoke, then he heard the driver close the door, and the acrid smell of the air conditioner took over. He shifted in his seat as the bus backed out, and his eyes opened again. He was 'most there, he thought. Right now, he wasn't entirely sure where "there" was, but it would be mighty good to have the journey over. A long trip for an old, old colored man, he thought. But he had to go.

Oh, he thought, he wasn't s'posed to even think colored. He was s'posed to think Negro or Black or African American. But he was b'fore that. He had fought for rights for those just like him. After all, a man has a right to sit where he wants to. Besides, his skin color wasn't black, it was a medium brown. And he wasn't African. He was an American, proud of it.

He shifted again in his seat, and felt the rough fabric press through his thin grey trousers. He picked at a scab on his arm-gotten when he fell down two stops ago-then slapped the offending hand with the other one. No. Musn't scratch. 'nfection. Not that it would make a difference at his age. He sighed and opened his eyes. No sleepin' on this bus.

He looked ahead at the driver in the seat ahead of him and grinned. Another thing that had changed for the better in the past years. He was sitting to the front of the bus. In fact, the nice young lady driver had set him there and asked him to poke her if he needed anything.

He didn't reckon she got many riders his age. But no. He didn't need nuthin'. He just needed to get to New Mexico. Soon, or it'd be too late.

Always too late. He rapidly put the memory out of his mind.

He contented himself with watching the scenery go by. At the beginning of his journey, he had made himself jumpy by imagining that every police car was looking for him-and ev'ry blue Tempo, too, 'cause that's what she drove. Actually, they prob'ly thought he was headed the other direction. Back to home. Back to his other home. They never would've thought 'bout him going this way.

Hell, until yesterday, he never thought of goin' this way.

He brought his head up with a jerk. Sleepin' again. He wasn't sure how he knew, but he was almost there. He looked at his seat companion. He could hear the bom, bom, bom from her headset of her CD player, and her gum snapped and her fingers tapped in time with the music. She smelled like cheap lilac perfume.

She reminded him of someone. Someone he had worked with. No. Couldn't be. Must be the overactive 'magination of an old, old man.

He turned to the window and watched the landscape, then refocused his eyes to look at his reflection in the window. He studied his face. When had he grown so old? It had hardly seemed a minute since. . .

He shook his head. The mem'ry was gone.

He looked at the landscape. It was Spring here. Flowers had popped out of the greenish brown vegetation like a magician's trick. It had been a long time since he had seen this. Beautiful.

His stomach growled, and he wished he could have some deep-fried chicken. None of that sanitized old folk's home food served by attendants who called you "honey" and "deary" without ever really looking at you. No.

He didn't miss the home. He didn't miss the smell of piss-urine-and worse. He didn't miss the smell of rubbin' alcohol and sanitizers and the polished white walls with the brightly colored pictures. He didn't miss the roommate that drooled and groaned and screamed in the night. (Temporary. Sure.) He was well rid of that place.

He wouldn't have been in there if he hadn't been startin' to talk funny. Rememb'rin' people his family didn't know. He was healthy. Nothin' wrong with him.

His head jerked up again. They were pulling into the bus stop. He must've been sleepin' again. He got off the bus. The nice lady driver helped, and so did the girl that had sat beside him, then they both got back on the bus. This wasn't the girl's stop. He thanked them and tried to give them money, but they wouldn't take it.

He walked slowly away from the station. Where he needed to go wasn't far, but it was too far to walk. He wondered where he could find a taxi-oh, down this street. But he didn't get very far, and luck or sumpthin' was with him, 'cause up drove a cab.

"Hey, pop," the young Mexican looking man called out. "Take you someplace?"

"Yeah." He pulled out his ragged billfold and counted his money. The money that he had saved over the long years and had hidden away in the home. Hidden from those few attendants with long fingers, taped with surgical tape in the back of his dresser drawer. Yes. Enough to get him there, prob'ly. He got into the cab.

"Where to, pop?"

"That way, he said, trusting the callin'-geas-compulsion that would tell him where.

The driver looked at him a second and looked worried. Another nice young man. "Ok, pop." He started off.

"I'll tell you where to turn," the old man said.

They turned and turned, then he knew he was on the right road. "Go ten miles out," he said.

"You sure, Pop? That's out in the middle of no place!"

"Ah'm. . . I'm sure." He sat back and watched the scenery with mounting tension. What if. . .?

He would deal with "what ifs" when he came to them.

When the ten miles were up, he pointed to a dirt road. "There."

The driver looked back at him. He didn't know what the young man saw, but the driver turned back forward. "Ok. Whatever you say."

They travelled down the road for a mile, then he told the driver to stop. "I'll walk the rest of the way."

The driver looked around. The old man knew he saw sparse desert and not much else, no even a shelter. But he knew that just a half-mile ahead, behind a hill, in a place that didn't look like much in the bright desert sunlight. . . was home.

He gave the cab driver the rest of his money.

"Say what?"

"Keep it," he said over his shoulder.

"But. . . do you want me to wait? This'll take you back to town and then some."

He continued walking, not turning back. "No."

"Well. . . thanks, pop!" He heard the cab turn around and leave. Another good sort. He had met all kind of people in his long life, most were good folks.

As he walked along, his step became firmer as he became more sure of himself. He rounded the hill and looked at the structure ahead of him. He was home!

He pulled the front door open, and as he stepped up to the astounded guard just inside the door, he remembered why he came.

Standing up straight-as straight as his arthritis would allow-he grinned at the guard. "Hi. I need to see Admiral Calavicci."

The guard stared at him. Not quite glaring, old age has its advantages. "You do, huh, old man? And who do you think you are?"

"I'm Sam Beckett. Dr. Sam Beckett of Project Quantum Leap."

The guard's eyebrows went up and he opened his mouth.

"Call Al. I bel've. . . believe his extension is 241."

The guard looked on his list. "You're right." He dialed down as Sam sank thankfully into the other chair.

Sam remembered everything. Everything, he thought. He remembered when Miss Melny died-when she ran into the train with her car. He remembered when Nell died-Nell, his. . . Jesse Tyler's granddaughter.

Despite all his efforts, he couldn't save them. He was in jail. He attended their funerals, grief-stricken, Al standing beside him with tears running down his face.

Sam remembered Jesse's memories taking over. He remembered Al as he faded out, their neurological link unable to be maintained because of Jesse's memories. He saw Al like it was yesterday. Come back, he was yelling, anguished. Sam! But Sam couldn't help.

Well, he came back. Sam had finally come home.

Al came out of the Project elevator, looking somewhat annoyed. He was wearing one of his less flashy outfits. . . a reddish pink shirt and slacks with a black pin-striped long jacket. Sam grinned.

Al looked at him and blanched. "Jesse? You remember?"

Sam sighed. "No, Al. It's Sam." He got up slowly from his chair, tears in his eyes. He reached out to hug Al, but Al pulled back, so that all Sam touched was his arm.

Al turned even paler. Something must've happened, Sam thought, and he felt alarmed as Al dropped into a chair, breathing heavily.

Then Sam smiled slowly. He knew-he thought-why he was there. Why he had been drawn back to the Project. The Lord was givin' him a second chance to make the Leap succeed and save his granddaughter and Miss Melny.

He could imagine what Al was thinking. He was afraid the Leap hadn't succeeded. But it will. This time.

"Amen," he said under his breath as he shuffled forward to comfort Al. So be it. He was home.