I was in a hurry to get to my SO, who’d been back in LA for only a few hours after a week in England. My new schedule had me in the office until 8pm, then I had a 1.5 mile walk to the bus stop to look forward to, then a wait, then a 40 minute ride, then another walk before I could get there. Not a big deal. Just annoying. It usually takes about 90 minutes and, honestly, I like the exercise and the bus ride. I need that no-talking, podcast or book-as-best-friend, down-time. I think it’s important and I wish others had something like this.
Every once and a while, on some sort of magic, unknowable schedule, there was a bus that could carry me that initial 1.5 miles but waiting for it could take as long as simply walking, so I rarely bothered. I saw the blue of the bus, though, a block distant, and I jogged to the stop, eager to get home faster than expected. Alas, it was some other bus sharing a few blocks of the same route as “my” bus.
“Ya just missed the 14 by about 2 minutes,” the toothless lady said, sitting in the unlit bus stop next to a poster showing the extraction of an insect from a woman’s eyeball. She took a drag of a cigarette. “But another one usually comes after this one,” she added, exhaling.
“Oh, okay,” I said, debating walking or waiting.
I think I saw one bottom tooth on her left side. Her face was sunken in where the rest of her teeth should have been, suggesting a substantial amount of time had passes since she could smile or chew like, well, like someone more fortunate. I know I’ve read too many crime novels when my first thought was that she must have been a meth-head. and I couldn’t seem to find another likely cause for her lack of teeth. Either way, she was a real human being, chatting after a long day. It had been a while since I had a real conversation with anyone. Not workmate chatter. Not mom confession. Not significant other how-was-your-day.
“You know, I always wonder about bus drivers,” I commented rather blandly as I plopped down and removed my bag.
“Yeah,” she said, taking her penultimate drag.
“Yeah. Some of ‘em are such jerks, skipping stops, yelling, whatever.”
“They’re usually assholes,” she decided, taking her last drag and stubbing the butt into the ground.
“Well,” I thought, playing the other side, “I hear they’re not allowed to go to the bathroom until the end of their route….”
“Yeah. that’s gotta suck. But still. They could be nicer.” Couldn’t we all? Is there really an argument for not being nice? A justification? If there is, I hope it’s based on science and not a subjective stance on how things “should” be.
“I hear they get tracked, like, if they’re too early or too late, stop by stop.”
“Yeah, they got trackers on them buses, tells the boss where they are,” she said, wisely.
I was curious about this woman, but apprehensive. I thought if I asked too many questions, I’d come across as rude or nosy, but I also wasn’t sure if I could talk to her like we were from the same social caste. I have to admit, I’m very ignorant of how I come across. A peer once told me she thought I was raised in a trailer park, and another peer once told me he thought I was secretly a trust-fund baby. Huh….
“So, can I ask, are you coming from, like, a “normal” desk job right now?” I asked, hoping I implied I wasn’t all fancy.
“Naw,” she said. We both still sat looking only forward on the perforated metal bench. “I’m a stay-at-home wife,” she said. I wondered what that entailed.
“I think I’d prefer that to my desk job,” I sighed, imagining cooking and cleaning and reading and writing and making music while my mystery husband was off at work. (Ha. Marriage. Not likely.)
“It ain’t bad. My husband, he’s takin’ classes right now. He’s doing computer science.” She sounded proud of him.
“Nice!” I replied. “That’s the field to be in these days. Lotta jobs.”
“Yeah, I know, but I gotta get his mom outta the house. My mother-in-law. Ugh.”
“Ha ha, in my family, we don’t call them in-laws, we call them out-laws.” That got a laugh out of her.
“I will say one thing—she makes a meeeeeeean lasagna,” she admitted, then paused, “but mine’s better!” She cracked herself up.
“Things are weird right now,” she went on, opening up. “My brother, he killed hisself a few years ago, August 4th. I remember the date. Cuz, see, my granddaughter is due the first week of August. And I’m excited n’ all for the baby, but, you know, we just want it, like, a week earlier or a week later,” she got quiet. That was a month away.
“So it’s not on everyone’s mind,” I said, thinking about a similar event in my own family, then wondering about who I remember by their birthdate and who by their death date. A dark thought. Right in time for the sky to turn from pink to fully blue. The sun was gone.
“Baby-girl wants me to buy her this stroller. It’s, like, 300 dollars n’ I’m like, what?! What does that thing DO?!” I laughed with her. It’s true. Stuff for babies has gotten pretty ridiculous.
“So, you know, my husband, he’s from New York.” She started to explain.
“Yeah, my family’s there, too,” I chipped in, getting home-sick. “Everything’s really different there.”
“Seriously, my husband, he don’t act like he’s from here. He’s always pointing out how things are different. And I’m, like, hey, you’re here. Your Spanish, for example, it’s not my Spanish. Don’t you tell me mines is wrong.” I had a hard time imagining her speaking Spanish, I’ll be honest. But, then, who’d expect me to?
“I know,” I added. “And I bet he calls it a highway instead of a freeway.” I could see her darkened silhouette nod. She’d lit another cigarette and the tip burned dully orange, not enough to lighten her face.
When I’d originally glanced at her, her face was weathered. The creases were deep, and feathered out finely. Her short hair was probably dyed black. And with the missing teeth, it all added up, to me, to be well over 60. Something about being a stay-at-home wife and her husband taking classes made me think she could be younger, just looking older because of circumstance (and meth). When she mentioned she was expecting a great grandkid, I still couldn’t pinpoint her age, because who know how old anyone was when they had kids.
The right bus had come and I made a move to let her get on first, but she had to stub out the cigarette. She stepped up behind me. I paid the bus-driver and said hi. He grunted. She walked past without paying. Maybe there was some unspoken agreement between them.
We sat in different seats but when she got off, just one stop later—literally two blocks away—I told her,
“I hope everything goes well with your grand-baby and mother in-law and all.” She said thanks and took a step off, disappearing into the darkness of yet another obscure bus stop without a light.