I'm inbound at Graham, shortly after 10pm. I'm looking for things to hold me up. It's very important to not be early. As operators, we don't get penalized for being late, since anything can make a bus late, but if we're more than thirty seconds early, it's over for us. That's a conversation in the boss's office, because as a passenger there's nothing worse than being on time, walking out to the bus stop, punctual and ready to catch it– and then seeing it fly past you before you can get to the stop, taillights already fading in the distance, even though you did everything right. So, I park it at Graham, sitting out the next light cycle.
"Ay ay hold up," a couple of figures exclaim, materializing out of the dark.
"It's cool." After a pause I say, "How's your night goin?"
He looks grateful for the acknowledgement of equality, and offers his fist for a bump. "Aw man, jus tryin' ta stay smart like you!"
"You and me both!"
He waves a handful of bloody napkins in the air, gesturing. "Yeah my girl tore her foot open, so she takin' a minute."
"Oh I'm sorry. It's all good, no rush. We got time."
"Thank you." She pulls herself onboard, and they choose a seat, sprawling out on the largely empty bus.
As we ride further into town more folks get on, some who know me and others who don't. A middle-aged man storing a basketball under his shirt is happy to see me again after a long time. "Excuse my foot," the lady says to him, her wounded limb sticking out in the aisle, as he sits across from them. The napkins are falling everywhere. One floats up to where I am, and I ponder the daubs of blood at a red light.
Although she spends most of the ride speaking loudly and profanely, I don't make an issue of it. People with open wounds deserve a free pass sometimes. When you should really be in a hospital and all you've got is the 7, you deserve a break. Although at first it seems she's merely arguing with another passenger about which of their brothers died more horribly, it gradually becomes apparent something of greater emotional resonance is taking place. As her male companion retreats to the back of the bus, away from her, she implores him with a despondent "sit the fuck down. Where you goin'?"
She tries to understand his behavior, asking, "you wanna go back?" But his better angels are fading. There's no reason in him now, just alcohol. As he avoids her, she keeps saying, "a drunk ain't shit. A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out, slut." Referring to him. "A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out, slut. A drunk ain't–"
"We're rollin' out," I say into the mic as we pull away from a zone, passengers still walking down the aisle.
"Yeah, le's roll, I gotta be at 5th and Jackson in five minutes," she says.
Piece of cake. That's three minutes away. "I do what I can."
"Listen, a drunk ain't shit," she says to the back of the bus. A drunk ain't shit. Figure it out,"
I look at the bloody napkin on the floor and decide to say something. Distract her.
Loudly, confidently: "How we doin' tonight?"
"Good. My brother just passed."
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
"It is heavy."
"Oohh, I'm sorry." I mean it.
"I'm sorry too. We was close. And then mah daughter..."
Her friend comes up to her again, saying, "hey, gimme a hunnerd real quick." He's standing over another man, perhaps interested in a transaction of sorts.
"I don't know what he's talking 'bout," she says, ignoring him. "I gotta catch that 41."
"Oh yeah, the one comes at 10:42, what is it? 10:38?"
"10:38 DAYUMN, you know whas' UP! You coo'!"
"I used to live out there, so I'm on that 41 all the time."
"Oh, tight. You know all the shit."
"Aw. Well. I hope it's a better rest o' the night!"
"Thanks, you too!"
It all boiled itself down into that beautiful phrase, the closing phrase of so many moments. What matter is the strife which came before, if we can work it down, parse it down to the simple equal goodness of a genuine "Thanks, you too?"
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