by Tony Noland
The cell phone in her lap rang again, the same blaring mix of synthpop trance laid over a baby crying, set to full volume.
Again, Tamura ignored it. After half a minute or so, it stopped.
It would ring again and she would have to act. Maybe on the next ring, maybe on the one after that, but it wouldn't be long.
Around her on the bus, the sidelong looks had grown, becoming more obvious. With every call, the comments, too, were rising. Private eyerolls had given way to disbelieving whispers to seatmates. Exasperated sighs and irritated mutterings, loud enough for her to hear, came next.
It wouldn't be long now.
From three seats behind her, she heard a woman's voice, young sounding but with a smoker's gravelly edge. She was swearing to God that if that fucking phone rings again, she'd go up there and answer the damned thing herself. Did anyone doubt her? She wanted to know, did anyone doubt her? After a day like hers, and with four hungry kids to face when she got home, she shouldn't have to put up with crap like that, wasn't that the truth? Wasn't it? Around her, other voices gave assent and encouragement. The voices agreed that someone certainly had to say something.
Please, Tamura thought, please don't. Not you, whoever you are. Not somebody's mother. Let it be a man. Please. Make it a man.
Gray skies threatened, but the windows of the bus were dry. The traffic was thin, rush hour long since over. Only the last shift people out now. Working people, the bottom rung.
She had to put out the left eye of the first person who said anything to her about the phone's incessant ringing. The randomness was part of the task set before her. Whoever it was, Henrique had said, man, woman or child. The first person who complains to you about the ringing, you stand up, point your fingers, pop-in-pop-out and run away with the eyeball. Bring it to me, he'd said. Bring it to me so I can hold it while it's still wet.
Tamura sat still in her seat, sweaty palms spread on her thighs, waiting for the phone to ring again.
Inked up blue jeans, red hightops, and a throwaway plaid jacket. Bits of shiny steel superglued to her face and ears, made to look like piercings. No one would be able to give a meaningful ID on her, Henrique had promised that. They'll never know what hit them. They won't have time to react. It'll be over in a flash.
The bus rolled on, the muttering behind her grew as the woman with the cigarette voice worked up her courage, egged on by her seatmates.
And Tamura waited for the phone to ring again.
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