On the bus to Asheville the woman sitting in front of me has a kind face and ropes of roses tattooed onto her arms.
"You goin' to Nashville?" she asks.
I came straight from church wearing my purple dress. "No," I say. "Asheville."
We both, I think, internally panic. One of us got on the wrong bus.
She begins to study her ticket. To our relief, this bus goes clear from Winston-Salem to Bakersfield with about a million stops in between. I'll get off first, she several hours later.
Beside the woman sits her young daughter, a thin girl with great brown eyes. She leans partly on a cow-printed pillow and partly on her mother's white elbow.
Homesick already, I blew my nose last night into a brown tank top from my bag of laundry. I feared-since I slept as a traveling guest in a Winston-Salem household-alarming a stranger in the hall with my teary quest for a tissue box.
I look out over the North Carolina countryside, trying to think of ways that it differs from Upstate New York. But it isn't that different. A horse pasture dips down from the highway-just like New York, except for the bits of scrub.
The pride and joy of my New York home and of my vine-dressing grandfather-homemade grape juice-quakes in three mason jars beneath my seat. It is so cumbersome-since I already have an alligator bag and a duffel of equipment for the drying, curling, and straightening of hair, and a pink-cased pillow-that I can hardly fathom carrying it. Would it be very wicked of me to leave the grape juice on the bus?
"Travel is hard work," says my mother when I call her.
I have been longing for several months for a place to simply rest. In my imagination I identified rest with the idea of a summer room with a large white bed in the middle.
Yes, I think, travel is hard work. Like Scarlett O'Hara on the way to the old plantation, whipping the foaming horse till it finally falls down dead. I don't expect to be met in Asheville by the crazed Confederate Gerald O'Hara, of course, but by Dr. and Mrs. Olasky and their house-which I have heard of-with the hanging kitchen pans and the two upstairs bedrooms.
As the highway rolls past-or, I guess, as the Greyhound leaps down the highway-God prompts this prayer in me:
In my time interning with the Olaskys, may we be satisfied in serving each other. Protect us from pride and also from despair.
At this a semi passes, these words stamped on its end:
"If God is for us, who can be against us?"
I haul the grape juice from under the seat. This is Proverbs 31, happening right here, right now, in the strengthening of my arms. My imagination, fattened on the Bible, produces this humorous thought: I hope neither of the Olaskys have vowed to sacrifice the first thing that comes running off the bus to greet them.
When I arrive Mrs. Olasky leads me upstairs and invites me to choose between the two rooms. And-(can God really be this good?)-I choose the bright one overlooking the yard. It has a big, white bed in the middle.
Then we sit down to three cups of grape juice.