So I woke for work at 8:00 PM, stood in the shower for a minute,
pulled on some clothes, and walked to the downtown bus station.
It takes me seven to eight minutes to walk to the station,
depending on how long I have to wait at crosswalks. I've timed
this, obviously. I try to get there about one minute before my
bus leaves, so I don't have to hang around and tolerate the
loudmouthed brain-damaged cigarette-mooching panhandlers who have
taken up permanent residence there. I have a heart, but I don't
have much money. And a lot of these supposedly homeless men look
like they eat better meals than I do.
As I walked up to the station, my bus was in the process of spilling its human load onto the sidewalk. But there was a minor disturbance in progress. A small group of bus drivers had gathered on board my bus, forming a tight huddle around a young black man. The black man was still seated on the bus and I saw that he was arguing with the drivers, waving his hands around and shouting incoherently. I leaned against the wall of the bus station, wearily, and lit a cigarette. I'd witnessed scenes like this before, and they can take some time to resolve. The police were almost certainly en route already.
Surprisingly, however, the Black Male Causing a Disturbance stood up a moment later and made his way to the door. As he stepped off the bus he nearly fell into the street, but managed to catch himself before he could take a header onto the sidewalk. Drunk, drunk. He teetered around, making animalistic noises, and called all of us "a buncha motherfuckers." (No points for originality.) Following that declaration, he wobbled off down the sidewalk, occasionally pausing to regain his equilibrium and have an angry conversation with himself.
As we watched him go, one of the bus drivers got on the radio. "Base?" he said into the mike. "This is Three East. Our situation has been resolved. Police involvement won't be necessary, over. Situation is under control."
Fuckin' Christ, I thought. This guy watches too much Law & Order.
"Okay, folks," the driver told us. "You can get on now. Sorry for the holdup."
Not much of a holdup--my cigarette was only half gone. I tossed it onto the ground and squished it with the toe of my shoe. As a group of us climbed onto the bus, I overheard the driver having a conversation with one of my fellow passengers, a nosy middle-aged woman: "He's drunk almost every day," the driver sighed, sounding both sad and angry. "I dunno what makes a guy do that to himself."
Our bus driver, I decided, had not been paying attention to life. Walking to my seat, I looked at the depressed, irritated, tired faces of my fellow passengers. I could've used a drink right then.
We rolled down the street, the bus creaking, popping and groaning the way cheap city buses do. I watched the darkened scenery scroll past my window, not really seeing any of it. There were seven or eight other people on the bus, and none of us had anything to say to each other. Apparently.
There was a rather cute chubby blonde girl in front of me. She was sitting on one of those sideways benches in front of the bus, the fold-up seats that you're supposed to surrender for the elderly or disabled. She looked like a nice enough girl--as if you can tell by looking--and I stole little glances at her as we rode along.
When you're riding the bus, someone's cell phone has to ring. It's a rule of sorts: You aren't allowed to ride the bus without listening to one half of a phone conversation. And as the bus rolled past the IU campus, it was Cute Chubby Girl's phone that rang. Well, it didn't ring. It played Michael Jackson's "Thriller." For fucksake.
I wished death on Michael Jackson about twenty-five years ago. My voodoo is slow, but it works.
I sighed and looked out the window again. Outside, a longhaired kid in a tie-dyed shirt was attempting some kind of dynamic skateboard stunt. It didn't turn out so well, and he nearly landed on his hyperactive scrawny ass.
I was trying to decide whether it was funny or not, when suddenly the Cute Chubby Girl exclaimed into her phone: "DADDY?!? Are you serious?"
Her tone was, to say the very least, distressed. All of us on the bus looked at her. And this girl proceeded to melt down right in front of us. Sobs, tears, the whole thing. She mumbled some more words into her phone, clicked off, and then put her face in her hands and let the grief happen.
All the rest of us on the bus looked at each other. And we looked
at her. And none of us had a goddamned thing to say to her. We
dropped our eyes, pretended nothing was happening whatsoever, and
prayed for the bus to hurry along.
I wondered what in hell was wrong with us. What happened to the human species somewhere along the way? Why does it feel so impossible to reach out to someone in need, someone in pain who could use a comforting arm around her shoulder or a few shallow words of consolation? It shouldn't be so impossible, should it?
I didn't have an answer. So I sat there, staring at the grimy floor of the bus, listening to the girl cry, and wishing I'd brought my iPod.
Cute Chubby Girl kept on sobbing until my stop finally arrived. Feeling grateful, I galloped off the bus, along with a skinny little Goth Girl. Goth Girl walked on down the sidewalk as I paused to light a cigarette and shake the bad feelings out of my skull. As if.
After a few moments, I started walking. Then I stopped. About twenty feet in front of me, the Goth Girl had stopped and bent down to inspect something on the sidewalk. I walked a little closer and saw that it was a small pile of bright yellow flowers that someone had discarded. (Don't ask me to identify flowers, please.) The flowers had obviously been stepped on a few times. Flattened, smeared, ignored. But Goth Girl pulled one from the mess that was relatively unscathed. She stood up, and I watched her coax its petals back into something like a natural flower shape. She held it up to her nose, inhaled, and smiled softly. The fluorescent lights overhead made her silver nose ring glimmer.
She held the flower in her hand, seeming oddly childlike, and started walking again. I moved over to the pile of crushed flowers and stared at them. In the center, I spotted one that had suffered minimal damage. I bent down, pulled it from the paste of its fellows, and stared at it. It was very pretty, a vibrant yellow with long petals and black dots that looked like freckles. I've always like freckles.
I started walking again, cigarette dangling from my lips, flower in my hands. I played with the petals a little bit, arranging them into what seemed, to me, like a proper flower shape. And I must admit, it was soothing. There was something very comforting about prolonging the afterlife of that bright yellow flower. I felt as if I'd done something valuable.
Then my mind wandered back to the Cute Chubby Girl again. Well.
Flowers we can put back together. Human beings, I guess, are on their own.