This morning as I waited for the bus to take me to work, I thought again about the never ending source of entertainment provided by my daily commute. I’ve relayed anecdotes before about my bus rides and I wondered when the next interesting scenario would present itself. I had only minutes to wait…
As I stepped onto the bus I noticed there were a few choice empty seats up front. These are a good find since sitting up front makes it easier to quickly exit the bus when we reach the end of our route. I sat in the first row of seats which happens to run along the side of the bus so that the person seated isn’t facing the front, but is facing an identical row of seats on the opposite side of the bus. That row of seats opposite me was empty except for one elderly man with a newspaper.
At the very next stop an elderly woman climbed onto the bus. As she saw the man opposite me she screamed in sheer delight, “Hello there!” and grabbed his hand and smiled as she sat down beside him. She was clearly excited to find him riding the bus this morning and she leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek. Since my seat faced theirs, separated by only about three feet, I could clearly hear their animated conversation.
“How in the world have you been?” she asked as she twisted her body to try to face him. She now grasped both of his hands.
“Doing well!” he responded as he smiled back at her. He leaned over and gave her a hug. “It’s been so long since I last saw you!”
They seemed genuinely excited to see each other and to have a couple minutes to catch up.
“It’s been years since I’ve seen you!” she said as she patted him on the knee.
“You still live in the Chatham?” she asked.
“No, I never lived in the Chatham.” he said. “I live off of Four Mile Run.”
“Oh, yes.” she said still smiling.
He was smiling too as he asked, “Are you still working part time at the flower shop in Alexandria?”
“I never worked in a flower shop.” she said, staring at him a little more intently.
“Ok, I was thinking flower shop.” he said apologetically.
Trying to get the conversation back on solid ground she asked him, “How are the grandchildren?”
“Whose?” he asked in return.
“Yours.” she answered, looking puzzled.
“I don’t even have children.” he responded. They both smiled a little less now and had let go of each others hands.
“I thought your daughter’s children visited you when you lived in North Arlington?” she asked as she sat a bit more upright, inching back into place in her own seat.
He attempted to bring some understanding to the conversation. “I never lived in North Arlington, but your grandson stayed with you for a week one summer when we both lived in the neighborhood near Petworth, right? he asked. His eyes searched for some sort of acknowledgment.
“I never lived in that area.” she said, staring at him blankly.
“Are you Ruth?” he asked bluntly, appearing to realize he had just hugged a total stranger and then held her hands.
“My name is Edith.” she said.
“Are you Martin”? she asked, appearing to realize she had just kissed a stranger on the cheek and then patted his knee.
“My name is Larry.” he answered.
They stared at each other for a second, then both grinned sheepishly as they talked over themselves apologizing for the mistake.
As the bus approached the end of our route, Larry and Edith said no more but stared straight ahead as though their conversation had never happened. When the bus stopped for us to exit, they stood, gave each other a slight grin and a nod, then left in different directions.
What a shame, I thought. In five minutes time they had gone from what they thought were old friends, back to total strangers again, embarrassed by their own friendliness towards each other.
This evening after work as I approached the bus waiting to take me back home, I saw Larry sitting up front in the same seat he had occupied this morning. I passed by his seat on the way to an empty one a few rows down. Just as the bus doors were about to shut, Edith climbed up the steps. She fumbled with her purse as she walked down the aisle and didn’t look up until she heard her name.
“Hello Edith.” Larry said with a smile.
“Well Larry!” Edith grinned as she greeted him.
Larry patted the empty seat beside him and nodded for Edith to sit down. She sat down. Amid the din of conversations on the evening bus, always louder and more crowded than the morning bus, I heard him ask about her day, she asked about his, and I swear I heard some mention of dinner plans in there…
The bus approached my stop and as I stood up they were still smiling.
As I walked by them, Edith giggled and patted Larry on the knee.
Stuart M. Perkins