My bus arrived on time in spite of the foul weather. I shook my umbrella, climbed the steps, and headed straight for the empty seat beside Marble Lady. I call her that now because last week she cleaned her purse during our morning commute and we discussed the small green marble she discovered in its zippered pocket. She’d found the marble in her yard, dropped it into her purse thinking it may have once belonged to her now adult son, and thought no more about it until she came across it that day on the bus. After we talked, she realized her sentimental feelings attached to it and instead of getting rid of the marble, she kept it.
This morning she faced the window when I boarded the bus. As I sat down she turned to give a “good morning” nod to whoever it was beside her. Seeing me, she broke into a smile. There was a question I’d been waiting to ask her but didn’t know my chance would come so soon.
“Have you lost your marbles?” I knew she’d remember last week’s conversation.
“No,” she laughed, “but I gave one away!”
Our bus stopped with traffic ahead of us, poor weather making it a slow commute. While we waited, she explained that she’d told her son about the small green marble. He agreed it was likely his because he remembered his set of marbles as a little boy. She’d told her son about our conversation and how a rush of sentimentality made her want the marble she initially disregarded. She had been affected by memories the marble sparked.
“I’ll never look at a marble the same way!” she insisted.
Marble Lady continued by saying she and her son had enjoyed a conversation of their own about sentimentality. They had laughed and remembered some good times but agreed that neither of them were usually prone to those feelings.
“Still, I’ll never look at a marble the same way.” she repeated. “Most things just don’t affect me like that.”
“Not me.” I confessed. “Not sure whether a blessing or a curse, but almost anything can make me sentimental.”
“Almost anything?” her tone begged me to seek professional help.
“Almost anything.” I confirmed with resignation.
The bus crawled forward and stopped again. While we waited, Marble Lady casually wiped moisture from the window to reveal a small bare tree by the street. A single blackbird flew onto a branch. In a moment it was joined by another, then three more, one more, two more, then many more, until suddenly the tree was peppered with blackbirds. They mingled, flapped wings, traded places, and made a ruckus we heard from inside the bus. I stared at the bustling blackbirds as the bus crawled forward a few more feet.
Marble Lady remarked how interesting it is that blackbirds spend most of their lives alone or with one or two more but at certain times of the year they gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is they say to each other, then part ways knowing they’ll do it again next year. She stopped talking when she noticed me staring at the flock.
“Oh no.” she grinned, remembering how almost anything can make me sentimental. She leaned closer to get my attention. “Don’t tell me that flock of birds makes you feel sentimental?”
“Noooo. Not at all.” I answered. “It makes me feel nostalgic!”
Good manners prevented her eyes rolling.
I attempted an explanation. “I was just thinking how that flock of birds compares to my family.”
Her eyes still didn’t roll but she stifled a laugh. “It makes you feel nostalgic? Tell me how!”
This was a pop quiz, I thought. I could never pass a pop quiz when I was in school. Now here was another, just like the one I had in Chemistry decades ago when I’d only studied for History. My stomach lurched like our bus in the traffic as I pondered just how to articulate my nostalgia.
I explained that my immediate family is large and my extended family is absolutely sprawling. Between aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, spouses and children of all, we’re a lot like those blackbirds. We spend most of our lives alone or with one or two others, but once a year or so we flock together. Just like those birds, there are certain times of the year when we gather from near and far to be together, say whatever it is we say to each other, then part ways knowing we’ll do it all again next year.
I’m sure Marble Lady wanted to tell me it wasn’t she who might have lost her marbles. She stared blankly at me for a second then looked back at the flock of raucous birds. As if on cue their muffled chatter ceased and they emptied the tree in unison to disperse in various directions. Marble Lady turned to look at me again.
“Well, now I will never look at a bird the same way.” she said.
The bus moved on at regular speed, Marble Lady became a birdwatcher, and I wondered whether I’d lost marbles of my own or finally passed a pop quiz.
Stuart M. Perkins