Riding the Bus

(A short essay/story about riding the bus. When I was younger I used to ride a lot of buses because I couldn’t afford a car.)

I remember this old lady who freaked me out once when I was riding the bus. I was in college and had two jobs and no car. To get to my crappy jobs I had to take the bus. There were always a lot of downtrodden people riding the bus, but I was one of them so I couldn’t really judge.

I had snagged a window seat that afternoon, which is good on the one hand if you like to look at things on the street like I do, but bad because that also means anyone can sit next to you and you can’t stop them. People try in different ways, like putting their packages or purses or jackets on the seat next to them. I don’t do that though because there are posters up on the buses that specifically say you’re not supposed to. And I also know that I have gotten on the bus many times when the seats are all full, and several people are doing this thing of spreading their crap out, and when you give them a look like move your stuff, dude, so I can sit my tired ass down, they act all perturbed and put out. I really do hate those people.

Anyway, this old lady slowly shuffled down the aisle of the bus and I knew, just knew, that she would sit right next to me, even though there were other empty seats. I often get this feeling when people get on, and invariably I am right. Maybe I remind them of their long lost daughter or else I just look semi-normal or they are just crazy and they aren’t thinking anything. Lots of times these people smell like dirty laundry, or if they are dressed up, like mothballs – old men in particular have this mothball smell. It clings to them like impending death.

This old lady, like I said, shuffled toward my seat and stopped. She had a brown paper grocery bag in her hands, with the top folded over. It must not have had anything heavy in it, because when she sat down she didn’t have to put it on the floor. She just sat down, put her monthly pass in the little bracket for tickets, and placed the bag on her lap.

“I got things to say,” she said. It startled me a bit, because I thought she was talking to me, but she wasn’t. She was just looking at the back of the head of the person in front of her. She said it again, “I got things to say.” I had had a shitty day adding up numbers for six hours straight in a little headset device that the inventory counters turn in after they do inventory in a store. The inventory counters went up and down the store aisles and counted every item, six at thirty-nine, four at sixty-nine, ten at forty-eight. And so on. They spoke into their recorders, and then these little disks were turned in to us, the adders. We listened to these numbers and added them up for a grand total of the inventory. The boss occasionally checked our disks, especially the fast adders like me, to see that we just weren’t putting in random numbers. I was really good at this task, really fast and accurate, mainly because I was broke and needed to make as much money as I could in as short a time as possible so I could study and then go to my other crappy job, which was as a waitress in a beer bar.

“I got things to say,” she said again, staring straight ahead. I didn’t want to look directly at her, because I have found the best thing to do in these situations is not to make eye contact. But I did let my eyes slide to the side a bit, just to make sure she was not addressing me. She had a bulbous wart on the side of her nose, and a mustache. Her eyes were a watery blue and her hair was haywire, gray and white. She reminded me in a way of a witch. She reminded me in a way of my grandma.

After she’d said it, like, twelve times, I finally broke down and said, “What? What do you have to say?” And she looked at me like she just then realized a human being was sitting next to her. Like she’d thought up until then she’d been alone.

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