The Beating

My baggage did not arrive. I went to airport services and pointed a finger at the washed-out head floating behind the counter.

-This is my life, I said to him.

The attendant looked at me with sedate eyes and explained why there was no cause for emotion. He acted as though he had seen me dramatize before.

-Most likely thing, he said. Is that your belongings will show on the next flight.

-I’m waiting, I said.

-Twenty minutes, he said.

I left him and went to a blue bench, where I eventually fell supine and fingered through the shoulder case I had carried with me. Then I began to mentally list all the possibly lost items from the missing bag- clothing, documents, a bowl I had bought out of pity. Before I finished, a flashing siren sounded and a row of flesh-colored bags dumped onto the carousel. People panicked and pushed against the beltway, digging themselves at the slow-moving luggage. I acted as if I really expected my bag to arrive with the others. I shoved my way into the heart of the commotion and kept my hands coiled for absolutely no reason.

After it all, I noticed a woman slouching next to me with defeat in her eyes.

-All my things are gone, she said.

-I understand.

The two of us commiserated and decided to share one of the blue shuttles. We went to the curb and waved at the first one we saw. It dragged to a stop and a uniformed man stepped out and reached for our bags.

-My bag stays with me, I said.

-These are your only bags? He asked us.

He seemed impressed by our minimalism. He dusted his hands against his chest sensitively.

-Where do you live? I asked the woman.

-Clock Street, she said.

-We are both on Clock Street, I said to the driver.

We paid and wrote our names onto a clipboard - her’s was CILLAR. Two people were already inside the van: a bearded man and a woman who consumed the entire back row of seats, a fat suitcase on either side of her. CILLAR and I sat together in the middle row.

-Everything I need was in that bag, CILLAR said.

-I know, I said. How did this happen to us?

-The airport doesn’t care?

-They're monsters. We nodded at each other. Then the backseat woman flicked a couple words at me.

-How much’d you pay? she asked.


I was hoping she wouldn’t repeat herself.

-How much’d you pay?

-Twenty two, I think.

-Ha, she coughed. They’re scamming me to death. I knew it.

She slapped her hand against the window.

-What about you? she said to the bearded man.

He answered the same. The woman gave a sort of pained-smile and her hair trembled on her scalp. Then the driver popped his head inside.

-Set? He said.

-Oh no, the woman called. I am not set.

She pushed aside her suitcases, stepped over CILLAR and writhed out of the van.

-I need to tell you something, she said to the driver.

He appeared suddenly sad. She closed the door and her voice became muffled, but still audible.

-You can’t scam me, she said to him.


-No, me. I’m paying more then them.

-You take up two seats.

-What in the hell does that mean? she said,

The driver pointed at the van and said something indistinguishable. The woman was biting her nails.

Inside, we kept heads politely forward. CILLAR maintained a false smile; the bearded man pretended to asleep and I drummed my fingers against my thighs, performing a song I had heard while the plane had taxied. When the actual screaming started, I was imagining the inside of my home - cupboards and closets and the pile of mail that must have collected over the weeks I had been gone.

-I hate your filthy little mouth, we heard the woman say.

-Now hold on, the driver said.

I wanted to shut the woman up. Outside, people’s heads began to turn. A family avoided the van. I watched two women jogging toward from the baggage claim vicinity, holding angular hats on their heads. When they arrived, their mouths moved authoritatively and their words were too tempered for us to hear through the vehicle.

Minutes passed. CILLAR toyed with a knit scarf in her lap.

-This is awful, she said.

-I should have been home forever ago, the bearded man said.

-Is this how people are? CILLAR asked. Haters?

-It isn’t not how they are, I said.

-I’m tired…, the bearded man said.

-Go to sleep, CILLAR said.

-No, you didn’t let me finish. I’m tired of people who whine.

-Sure, sure, She said.

The man coughed to himself. I smiled at the back of his head.

-This, I said. Is the last experience I want when I come home.

They both agreed. We said some other things and laughed quietly to each other about how elliptical situations can be.

Later, I glanced out the van window and saw three more uniformed people surrounding the driver and woman.

-She can’t be in my van, we heard the driver say.

-Me? The woman said.

At that point, the zeal had left her voice.

-I’m not driving her anywhere, he said.

He stomped toward the butt of the van, threw open the back doors and began to yank the woman’s luggage off of her seats, one by one. The three of us turned around. Somehow, he looked into all of our eyes simultaneously.

-I’m sorry, he said.

Then a little, kempt-looking woman appeared beside him and he turned to her with anger and spite. They spoke with the back door open and we all heard every word.

-Drive her, she said.

-I’ve been insulted.


-You’re asking me to ignore what this woman said? You want me to play dumb? Can’t I have dignity?

-I’m asking you, she said. To be better than those things.

He clenched his teeth and wiped his eyebrow twice before lifting the woman’s bags off the ground and back into the van.

-Thank you, she said.

The driver nodded and went to the woman. His aimed his face away from her.

-Into the van, he mumbled.

The woman didn’t respond. She wore an expression of contrived strength. Then she opened the doors and crawled into the back seat and did not look at any of us.

People dispersed. The driver stormed around the van and slammed his door. Inside, he squinted at his clipboard before throwing it at the passenger seat.

-Well, he said. We have three people on Clock Street. It’s our first stop.

He started the ignition and called to the woman in a half-intimate, half-insulting tone.

-You’re last.

-But I’m closer, the woman said. I’m in the Temple District.

-Oh, but you go home last, he said.

We did not turn around to look at her, but we all heard the snort.

On the very short ride out of the terminal, we experienced two near-collisions. The driver steered the van in quick diving turns.

The other cars rightfully honked at us.

-Who are these people? he yelled.

He accelerated into a stop and kicked at the floor. Then he began weaving between slow-moving vans and dialing the radio with his right hand. After a minute of this, CILLAR looked at me and opened her eyes widely.

-This is just plain too fast, she said. You should say something to him.

-That wouldn’t help, I said.

-But I’m really worried.

I pretended to not hear her last comment. I didn’t want to know her emotional status.

-Didn’t you hear me? she said.

I smiled and nodded. The woman stuck her head between us.

-I agree, she whispered. He’s a maniac.

I turned to the window.

-What are you gonna say? The woman asked me.

She pawed at my shoulder. Then the driver craned his head around and yelled at her.

-You, he said. Quiet. I’m driving.

The woman slumped into her seat. I was glad he had said it. I wanted no responsibility to either of these women.

For some reason, the driver was very persistent in dropping the woman off last. He took the long route to accomplish this. He circumnavigated the entire city at high speeds to reach Clock Street first.

-Listen to this, he kept saying, pointing at the radio.

It was some kind of foreign music. I didn’t respond but the bearded man managed to hold an erratic conversation with the driver, which may have been subtly calming him.

Every few seconds, CILLAR whispered something in my ear and her humid, sour breath reminded me of the homes of unfamiliar families.

-What do you think about all this? She said.

-His driving makes my stomach turn, she said.

-Do you think he’s still angry? she said. I tried to grin through everything; however, after this last question, I laughed to myself.

-This isn’t serious, I said to her.

Eventually, we came to the bearded man’s stop and the driver quickly leapt from the van and danced toward the side door. The man waved goodbye to all of us with an uncomfortable gesture, panning left to right. Then the driver bashed his fist against the window where the woman sat. She jerked in fear.

-What is wrong with him? CILLAR said. Is he trying to scare you?

-He is, he is.

-Will you be all right?

-I don’t know. He might attack me.

-Maybe you can go with her, CILLAR said to me. To her stop.

-She’ll be fine, I said.

But what I wanted to say was: That’s enough of this.

We left the bearded man’s house and sped through some more industrial neighborhoods. I watched big faces stream past on billboards. Meanwhile, the woman behind me was chewing on something moist-sounding. I avoided looking back and seeing her expression, whatever it may have been. Beside me, CILLAR’s hands swam through her purse, her eyes moving quickly.

-I can’t find my wallet, she said. Damn.

-Did you lose it? The woman said.

-I don’t know. I don’t know where it is. I just had it a few minutes ago. It wasn’t in my lost bags.

-I’ll check the floor, the woman said.

-Wait, CILLAR said. I found it.

The driver turned up his music.

CILLAR’s house arrived before mine. She lived near someone I had once known. Again, the driver jumped out of the car to unload bags. He opened the door with a grin.

-Don’t you have bags? He asked her.

-No, she said.

-That’s right, he said. Now I remember. He took her by the hand and led her out of the van. He seemed to be rushing through the whole procedure. On her way out, CILLAR gazed back to the woman.

-Good luck, she said. I mean it. Don’t take anything from him.

To respond, the woman laughed as if something had clogged her throat.

The driver threw himself inside, lifted his clipboard and ran a slow finger across it.

-One more stop, he said.

He shut the door. The van surged forward and, in a moment, I felt more breath on my ear.

-Can I get off at your stop? The woman whispered.

-You do whatever you want, I said.

-I can call a taxi.

I nodded. The driver was glancing in the mirror.

-I’m nervous, she said.

-I’m sure that’s unnecessary, I said.

-He’s livid.

-This is his job. He won’t hurt you.

We rounded the corner to my complex and the van stopped. The driver stepped out and opened my door. He squinted.

-You didn’t have bags? he said.


-No one has bags, he said. Ha.

He closed the door behind me. We smiled at each other as if giving approval. Then the woman threw open the door and drove a stiff foot at the pavement.

-I’ll get out here, she said to the driver.

-Get back inside, he said.

-I will not.

-First you say I overcharge you, then you don’t want the full ride?

-I want out now. You scare me, bad.

-Come on. Don’t insult me again.

The driver touched his eyebrow. His hand seemed to be shaking. It was cold and I wanted to be in my apartment.

I stood there for a couple of seconds, while they didn’t look at each other. If all went well, I would never see these people again.

-Please, he said to her. I’m not upset.

She was quiet, eyeing him up and down, trying to find an answer.

-You’re stop is only five minutes away, he said.

She looked at the sky, then at me.

-Can I talk to you? She said.

We walked toward the stairs to my complex and spoke at a very low volume.

-What do you think? she said.

-I don’t know.

-Is he upset?

-He seems calm to me. I wouldn’t worry.

I had to deeply inhale before I spoke that phrase.

-It’s only five minutes, she said.

-Five minutes of nothing, I said.

-You’d better be right, she said.

-If I’m not. You can hate me for it.

She walked away and crawled herself into the van. The driver closed the door behind her. I went into my apartment, laid out my only bag, and unpacked.

About the author:

Ross lives in Seattle and writes for The Believer, Stop Smiling, Seattle Weekly and Mean. He is one third of the band Trespassers William. He edits at He's working away at a novel thing.