Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bus fuss

I waited in the teeth of the wind as the daylight faded. If you wait inside the bus shelter, out of the worst chill, the bus will not see you; it will rumble past without slowing, and you will wait another fifteen minutes. Ask me how I know this. So I waited outside, hunching my back against the wind.

The bus, when it came, was warm, all the windows heavily steamed up from all the passengers. A couple of people stood in the back, and I resigned myself that all seats were taken and staggered down the aisle toward them as the bus lurched into motion. Just a few seats from the front, though, a young woman wearing a fuzzy white hat sat in the aisle seat with only her tote bag slung across the window seat. White earbuds plugged her ears and her head nodded rhythmically to her music. Stopping at her side, I waited expectantly.

She didn't look up. I cleared my throat. She finally tilted her head toward me. I pointed at her bag. She raised her eyebrows. I enunciated carefully, "I'd like to sit down."

Surprise flitted across her face. "Oh, um. Okay," she said. She slowly picked up her bag, drew it onto her lap, and turned her body slightly sideways, leaving a gap of about four inches between her knees and the seat in front of her. When it became clear that this was as far as she was going to move, despite my own body being slightly wider than four inches, I dragged myself through and flopped down heavily into the window seat. "Thanks," I said, and then I snidely added with a little smile, "I don't think your bag needs a seat all to itself!"

I wasn't sure she heard me; she said nothing, and soon her head began to bob rhythmically once again. But soon my conscience smote me mightily for my passive-aggressive little act. Once I'd gained the seat, there had been no call for further verbal barbs. An apology was in order, obviously. Or was it? On the balance sheet of our interaction, had my rudeness outdone her own so much that I had fallen into her debt? I wasn't sure. Yes, I'd been a sarcastic brat. But she had forced me into it through her own headphone-wearing oblivious selfishness!

She began to hum softly to her music. Probably not on the verge of sobbing, then. And now minutes had passed. Wouldn't it be obtrusive and weird to turn to her and abruptly apologize? No, an apology would be too much, now. It would draw us into a conversation that her humming, head-nodding ways were obviously meant to forestall.

Still, I had to do something. And it came to me. I determined to thank her when we parted ways. When at last she or I rose to depart, I would catch her eye and give her a humble smile. No, it would have to be not so much a smile as a wry look of slight regret, and shame. I would also manage to tinge it with gratitude and forgiveness.

I would fix this incredibly communicative expression on my face and softly say, "Thank you." And in those two words, I would pour out all the emotion in my remorseful soul. With that look and those two words, I would let her know that she had been oblivious, and that I had been rude, but that it was all behind us now. My face would make plain that we were two sisters on the bus, bound by our transit route, and the world stretched anew before us. Somehow my glance would make her resolve to be more aware, and would tell her that I vowed to be less snappish. She would hear my thanks and know that I was grateful not just for the seat, or for her forgiveness and her new intentions; she would know that I was grateful to be alive, on this bus, and that I wished her well in her struggles. She would feel a flood of gratitude for our human family, foibles and all.

And perhaps I could add just a slight twinkle of humor to my eye, to share my amusement at her increasingly loud humming--no, no, better not make any further comments on her behavior. No twinkle, then. Just the World's Most Expressive Look and Heartfelt Thanks. My mind made up, I mentally rehearsed this upcoming performance until we drew up to my bus stop.

I turned to her. She swiveled her legs, once again leaving me a scant few inches to squeeze out. Nevertheless, I strengthened my resolve. I looked her in the eye, and nodded. "Thank you," I said with a smile.

She ignored me. Putting her tote bag where I had been, she settled back into her seat and adjusted her earbuds.

Clearly my performance needs more work. Next time I also probably shouldn't roll my eyes and sigh loudly before I walk away.