Charles commutes to work by bus.
“Got a bus story for you,” he says. “I know you’ll appreciate this.”
As a writer and daily bus user, I hear these words a lot.
I cease the work I am doing on an e-mail, one in which I am reconsidering the paragraph where I accuse the person on the receiving end of having ingested lead paint chips as a child. I grin at him. The e-mail can wait.
“So I’m taking the 4, right? I’ve got a seat in near the front in a forward-facing seat, not one of those aisle-facing seats.”
I nod. Like many, I dislike the aisle-facing seats. Land of babystrollers, wheelchairs, people who board on 7th and get off on 8th, the odd woman in spandex pants and seam-stressed bra-lets, there tends to be a lot of overturn at the front of the bus.
The front of the bus is where the action is.
“I’m sitting three rows back,” he says, “when a very tidy looking woman gets on. Nice dress, purse, all very trim. She sits down in one of the aisle-facing seats, pulls a book out of her purse, opens it up and starts reading.
“A stop later, two women get on, sit in the seats in front of me. These two – how do I describe them? Salt of the earth, perhaps. Unpretentious. Earthy.”
“Simple?” I say. I find that bluntness is sometimes called for.
“As you say,” he says, nodding vigorously. “’Simple’ could certainly be used. There they are, these two, one very tall, one rather small, both missing teeth, both in need of a good moisturizer and, perhaps, a bath, when the woman at the front of the bus, the one with the book, catches their eye.
“Hey! says the little one. Hey! Hey, lady! Hey, lady!
“But the woman with the book, not realizing that someone two rows away from her is trying to get her attention, continues to read.
“Hey! Hey! Hey, lady! Hey, lady! The little one keeps calling out, and now the larger one joins her. Now there are two women calling Hey! Hey, lady! Hey, lady!
“Finally the woman at the front of the bus senses that she is being addressed and turns a somewhat cautious eye to the women. There are perhaps eight people, some seated, some standing, between her seat and where these women are. She puts a finger to her chest, frowns and mouths one word: Me?
“These two in front of me – I can’t take my eyes off them – nod energetically, and the little one say, Hey! Hey lady!
“And the woman with the book says Yes?
“And the little woman in front of me says Whatcha readin? This catches the woman at the front of the bus somewhat unaware, and she turns her book around, looks at its cover, tells them the name of her book.
“And the little woman jams an elbow into the ribs of the woman next to her and hisses You see that? She don’t even know what she’s reading! And they both laugh uproariously.”
Charles shakes his head in bemusement.
“One can always rely on the bus,” he says.