“There should be a protocol,” she stresses. “There are reasonable expectations associated with the bus!”
I nod solemnly, pull out the book I keep on hand for such occurrences, and remove the cap from my pen. “Why don’t you tell me about it?” I say.
“There’s this guy – he’s a big guy. A really big guy. And you know the size of those seats, right?”
I do, indeed. Tamra rides daily on one of the city-to-suburbs buses, buses that look, for the most part, like a city bus, but are run independently. They have Greyhound-fancy seats and, from what I understand, onboard masseuses.
“So he sits down. And he’s allowed that. I’m not saying he shouldn’t sit with me. But then he overlaps, and –“
Tamra shudders. A slender, fashionable woman, one suspects, looking at her, that not only is her home in a visitor-ready state, but that her legs, despite it being January, have been recently shaved.
I like her anyway.
“—and you know how I feel about germs, right? So there he is, he’s got his leg pressed – and I’m as close to the window as I can get! – against mine, I can feel his belly –“
Tamra is overcome. I give her a moment.
“And then he pulls a newspaper out of his briefcase! He pulls the newspaper out, snaps it open – and now I’ve got his arm clearly in my bubble –“
His arm is clearly in her bubble, I write, chuckling.
“ – and then – and then!”
I look up from my notes, reach for my coffee. “And then?”
She closes her eyes, turns away, as if to push the memory away. “He sneezes,” she says. “Into the newspaper.”
I chuckle, despite myself. I’ve watched Tamra disinfect a hallway after someone with a sniffle walks by. Raised by a registered nurse, on a first-name basis with a number of exceedingly startling maladies, Tamra does not suffer a germ gladly.
“That’s not the worst of it,” she says, turning back, eyes haunted. “After he sneezed into the newspaper, he – he –“
My eyes go round. No. My mother’s voice rises, somewhere in the back of my head; and suddenly, I know what Tamra will say next.
“No,” I say.
I stare at her.
She looks away again. “He picked his nose. And then – “
I make a choking sound, but the worst is yet to come.
She looks up, troubled. “He flicked it,” she says, wincing. “He flicked it in the aisle.”
There is a moment’s silence as we consider this.
She turns back to her monitor, types quickly, a brief, staccato burst of sound.
“I see him all the time,” she says. “But I keep my purse on the seat next to me. I pretend to be digging in it until he passes.”
She turns back to look at me. “It’s not right,” she says. “me leaving my purse on the seat like that. But really, there ought to be protocols.”