"I'ma pay when I get off," she says in a scratchy mezzo-soprano. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her is her voice, impossible to imitate- all at once nasal, childish, and gravelly. It carries the evidence of history, of use and abuse, and it sounds more aged than her thirty-odd years.
Here she is now, not quite toothless, with a black rag tied tight around her skull, billowing pants, and nondescript heavy coat. Unwashed stains fade under the mercy of passing time. She always tells me it's a war zone, and as she's leaving today, transfer in hand, I decide to preempt her.
"Is it a war zone?"
"Oh, iss a war zone out here! Gah be careful. They out to get me, all uh dem."
"Uh oh. That's not cool."
"Hey, mista bus driver."
"I jus' wanna let you know. Tha' guy in the back he been pullin' on my chest with a magnetic imagery machine."
"Oh, that's definitely not cool. We don't like that."
"Yeah he been tryna take my images with his big magnet, using his magnetic imagery machine on me. Could you report it for me?"
"I'm 'onna get on that. Keep lookin out for ya."
"See you next week!"
Sometimes I wish we could have subtitles emanating from our midsections, explaining what we really mean. In this instance our subtitles would have said, "Do you feel safe?" "No, that man makes me feel uncomfortable." "Don't worry. Your safety's important to me." "Thanks." "You're always welcome on my bus."
Her weary frame seemed grateful for my acknowledgement. It may have sounded like superfluous nonsense, but real communication was happening there. I considered her slurred delivery, her (mis)understanding of the docile passenger in the back, and her mode of decorum: genial, addressing me as "mister," paying the fare but in her own way. I mulled over my unmeditated decision to engage her on her own terms, my choice of tone and words- an amalgam of cities I've lived in, attitudes and people who have lingered.
To think that such a brief intersection of gestures was borne out of all the passing time, decades of thought and action in her life and mine, a myriad of different echoing choices we've separately made, leading finally to this exchange- to be made aware of the sheer interconnected density of life... this is to be amazed at existence, alternately vast and stunningly minute.
What memories will she continue to build? Will this scattershot interaction be among her recollections, a glimmer of déjà vu years from now? There could be value in that. I'm glad we crossed paths.