Friday, December 19, 2008

Open Letter Without Apology

To the woman I bumped into downtown this evening around 7:15, who gasped in audible terror at my touch:

I had been running for two blocks when my path crossed yours, my friend. You couldn't have known, but I had stood outside waiting for a bus for an hour and a half earlier in the afternoon. My toes had gone numb, my fingers were cold even inside their mittens, and my nose had nearly developed its own tiny icicle. When I left work this evening I was dreading the chance of repeating the experience to get back home, so when I saw my bus pulling away just as I turned the corner to the bus stop, I could not allow it to escape me.

I trotted awkwardly down the iced-over sidewalk after the departing bus. The right combination of traffic lights would let me catch the bus at its next stop in three blocks. The bus was still in view, so I ran across the first cross street as my pedestrian signal changed. Clumsily, I galloped on down 3rd. Most people kept to the ice-free sidewalk next to the buildings, so I veered precariously onto the icy outer walkway several times to pass other pedestrians. Wheezing in the cold air, I crossed the second cross street with time to spare. My bus was stopped at the end of the block, and I did my best to speed up.

It was at that moment, my friend, that you and your male companion ambled out onto the sidewalk. You were strolling slowly, your well-layered arms sticking out at angles, much like those of the little brother in the movie A Christmas Story. My bus was still stopped, but its line of boarders was shrinking. You and your companion spread out to meander past other folks. A small gap between you and another walker presented itself. I darted through, and I bumped your elbow as I did so.

You sucked in air like a drowning person, like somebody in a bus about to crash through a guardrail onto a freeway below, like a seer of ghosts and demons and woe. Your enormous lungs seemed capable of inhaling more air than the cold city contained in all its core. Perhaps you were terrified, dear lady, of the clear threat I presented in my slacks and wool jacket. I do stand an imposing five-foot-six, while you were but a diminutive five-foot-five, so I understand your fright at my looming height. Or maybe you saw only the paper bag in my hand, full of leftover snacks, and panicked at the thought that I might bludgeon you to death with a Wheat Thin and a cookie.

In any case, your desperate gasp lasted so long you may not have heard me cry, "Excuse me!" as I passed. But in case you missed what followed, I want you to know this: with barely a second to spare, I caught up to my bus. I boarded and sat wheezing, my lungs aching from the cold. Oh, my voluminously-lunged friend, my haste in our encounter had rewarded my joints with a blessed reprieve from another long wait in the cold.

And so you see why I am not even slightly sorry for bumping into your own elbow joint in order to do so. Your overly dramatic inhalation was wholly without result. I am free of remorse, my friend. Free of remorse--and warm.

Ta, and happy holidays,