chapter 3 summary

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palma and six of her friends are on a bus from barnwell to the upcoming claybourne festival. together, they constitute a “seven sisters” group: an intentional pluralistic group featuring one member each from seven different cultures. palma—known as their “sister of the yam”—seems distracted, and the other women suspect it may have something to do with her inability to reach her sister velma. also on the bus is a full band en route to their festival gig, a couple of very drunk passengers, and a boy with a cage of snakes.

fred holt, the bus driver, mulls over his disillusionment with the state of the world as he drives the route to claybourne. he worries about his job and that the country may soon enter a second great depression, but he is primarily preoccupied by the recent murder of his friend and colleague porter. the two were close, often allied by virtue of their poor treatment by the bus company—as black men, they were often offered only night shifts.

the bus is running late, and the passengers soon begin to complain. as the passengers talk, fred thinks about his dissatisfaction at home, his distant relationship with his wife, margie, and especially porter. he fantasizes about what he might have said to porter about his passengers if he were still here, thinks about what porter might have someday achieved, and his brutal unsolved murder: he was stabbed in the neck with a pair of knitting needles by an unknown assailant while eating at the pit stop.

in one mysterious and unifying instant precipitated by a bird screech, everyone on the bus is mentally transported to another time and place for a brief moment.

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