We must’ve hit a series of potholes. There’s creaking and bouncing and somehow in the cramped space I end up upside down. My feet are where my head just was, but I am still folded in half, unable to move any better than before. There’s a new scratch on my back from sliding down against the wood, but it’s no worse than it was before. I inspect the splinters in my fingertips, close to my face because it is hard to see. Using my nails, I scrape at them until they bleed. One rips out entirely and when I hiss with pain someone shushes me in the distance and it echoes off the tin walls. Somebody must be trying to sleep. The blood drips onto my bare stomach but there’s nothing I can do about that. It’s quiet except the sound of the street as it stands still but we zip by.
We hit a couple more bumps and I end up in a more comfortable position. My knees are under my chin and my feet are tucked in close. My neck is angled sideways, but I don’t have the space to move it and that’s alright. A horn honks too close—probably another passing semi—and it hurts a little but all I can do is snicker at the soft cursing I hear from down the row. There’s whispers around so I guess everyone is awake now. Good. I could use some good conversation.
“Hey,” the familiar whisper springs from the distance.
“Hey,” I call back. There’s no response, so I continue, “Did you hear that bird before?”
“Sounded like a hawk.”
“How would you know? You’ve never even seen a hawk.”
“I don’t know. It’s the only bird I know the name of.”
“Huh. Me too I suppose. What do you think they look like?”
I consider the question carefully. I’ve heard stories from the outside, swapping of vague ideas of how things are to pass the time. But that isn’t what the voice wants to hear. They want fantastical imagery and dreams of intrigue. “I think they look like those signs. You know, the ones outside the gas stations, that glow? Like those, but more colors. With big, sharp, pointy teeth, and wings, you know, because they’re birds, but wings with big claws on the end.”
We fall back into silence, the lull of the street beneath us. We hit another pothole, hard, and I feel something strange. A give in the edges, splintering. One more pothole, and the whole truck wobbles, and I feel more give, more splintering. Once more, and BANG. The wooden crate explodes around me, bursting open at the seams. Splinters and nails sit around me as I warily stretch my limbs, barely noticing them scraping up as they move. As freed as I feel, the stretch of my muscles hurts, and I wobble as I try to stand. I look around and see light filtering under the heavy metal door. In the gleam I can see more boxes, small, wooden crates, some stacked, but most simply sprawling next to each other, filled with people, moaning at the pain of the last bump.
Over in a far corner, I see someone else, also standing warily, eyes darting over the tops of crates we know so well as voices. Whoever it is—if only they would speak, I might know—finally makes eye contact with me through the dark. We stare for a moment, nod, and both slowly sink down, sitting in what remains of our boxes, just as we were trained to do.