Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Route 19

The bus wheezes out of the early winter darkness and groans to a stop in front of my shivering frame. Gentle warmth slips out as the doors hiss open in greeting. I step into the light, slide my card through the reader, and look for a seat. Tossed down the aisle as the bus pulls back into traffic, I break the silence of the passengers as I excuse myself to squeeze between two men.

Scanning the faces, I look for the “regulars” in the mix. In the back Sleeping Guy is resting his head on the window; oblivious to the jolt and jangle of the bus. Across from me is Big Man With Tiny Backpack. Today he wears a too small jacket over his unvarying dark t-shirt and black athletic pants. Smiling Angry Man, whose smile never reaches his eyes, is by the rear exit. I am afraid of him. The Stop Requested bell pierces the stillness. Waitress gets off the bus and is replaced by Hospital Scrub Guy.

Cold air rushing in the open door pokes at my knees. The dim light in the front of the bus turns gold as the date and time scroll by marking this moment in my life. The houses and apartments slide by the windows. I take a slow, deep breath and close my eyes.

When I open my eyes I am blinded by the intense afternoon sun of summer shining through the lightly shaded windows. Blinking, I look down to see a young girl’s dirty flip-flop framing her polished toe nails. My nostrils sting with the smell of dried sweat that permeates the air.

I look up to see Prim Lady in her familiar small straw hat chatting with the driver. Professional Guy Who Never Sits adds a comment while Old Lady Who Dresses Like A Little Girl, her transfer ticket safely pinned to her collar like a name tag, sits on the edge of her seat straining to see around him.

The air conditioner struggles to calm the heat of our bodies as we make yet another stop to pick up more people to add to the boisterous mob and I wonder where they will fit in the overcrowded bus. Working its way through the afternoon rush hour traffic, the bus jerks and jostles the passengers who try in vain not to touch each other.

My street announced, I impatiently pull the Stop Requested cord and weave my way to the door. Outside, I pause for a moment to reposition my backpack and look back at the group slowly boarding the bus. Glad to be nearly home for the day, I walk away.