Hugging a Stranger’s Child

The young mother, clearly overworked, wore a thin, ill-fitting jacket and blue jeans. On her right shoulder hung her purse, a diaper bag and three plastic grocery sacks. In her left arm slept a baby bundled in a white snowsuit and pink blanket. There was one empty seat on the bus, so she told her three-year-old son to sit there.

The boy obeyed, but squinted suspiciously at the fortyish woman in layered work clothes and a reflective safety vest sitting next to him. He squirmed. He glanced over his shoulder to see out the window behind him. He turned his face the other direction and eyed the overweight, old lady with a gray, metal cane propped against her knees. The boy stared at her challengingly.

She smiled at him.

He dropped his head, squirmed again, leapt to feet, and darted to his mother. Flinging his arms around her legs, he buried his face against her knees.

“Mikey,” she said uncomfortably. “Mikey, go back and sit down.”

“No,” the toddler whispered.

She shrugged her purse and the diaper bag higher onto her shoulder, leaned forward awkwardly, and placed her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Go. Sit. Down.”

Mikey shook his head defiantly, looked into her eyes, and started to cry.

Other passengers on the bus pressed against each other, some pointed, others jerked their chins in Mikey’s direction, and all of them snickered. The driver’s angry glare bounced off the rear view mirror and slammed into the harried mother.

“Mikey,” she said pleadingly.

The old woman canted her head as she measured the exchange between the boy and his mother. Finally, she called out cheerily, “Mikey.”

The child twisted around to look at her.

“Mikey, come back and sit next to your Aunties,” the old woman suggested.

The woman in the reflective vest nodded toward the boy, then patted the empty plastic bus seat invitingly.

The boy glanced at his mother, who smiled with desperate frustration and repeated, “Go sit down.”

Realizing that he had been saved by his “Aunties,” the boy raced back, and the woman in the reflective vest helped him climb onto the seat. The boy knelt with his nose and one hand pressed to the window. He used the other hand to gesture at all the wonderful things outside the bus window: the overhead train, another bus, a truck from the south side delivering produce. Tapping his hand on the glass enthusiastically, he grinned and cried out at the truck’s logo, “Let us!”

The old lady thought of the three-story walk up and the twice used tea bag waiting for her at the end of the bus ride. The string from the tea bag would be dangling down the side of the cup and beside it, along the edge of the saucer, would be the half-slice of cold toast she’d set aside for her lunch. She tightened her grip on her utilitarian cane.

“Lettuce,” she agreed feigning excitement. “And tomatoes.”

Transport

 

The hook flew up, down, in and out. 

She watched the white-haired crafter as the bus shuttered and grumbled. Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out.  She wondered how the woman could focus.  Her own head throbbed. Hip-hop roared from some punk’s headphones.  Two sisters, well, they looked to be sisters, animated a loud conversation with gestures and laughter.  A small child chanted, “Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout” in a shrill singsong. She could barely think and all she had to do with sit there. Yet here was this old woman working away; her hook blurring in a purposeful, methodical rhythm.  Up. Down. Wrap. In. Out.  The bus jolted to a stop as the driver avoided colliding with a light-colored Kia which had suddenly braked.  The driver blared on the horn.  She couldn’t see what difference it would make. Clearly the Kia’s operator was just as trapped as the bus.  Up ahead she spotted billowing smoke swallowing the horizon.  From somewhere behind the all the stopped vehicles, she could hear the whining of a siren and see pulsating lights. The fire department, she guessed, and wondered how they would traverse the traffic jam.

A young couple, possibly students, rose and navigated between commuters to reach the front of the bus. “Would you let us out here, please?” the young woman asked. The driver shook his head. “Not safe.” “All the cars are stopped. We’ll make better time walking,” the young man said more persuasively.  “Nope,” the driver responded.

            The couple shrugged and headed back to their seats.  She thought she heard the young man swearing but couldn’t be sure. His shoulder slammed into the guy with the headphones, knocking him nearly off his feet. “Sorry” he mumbled.

“What the fuck?” the punk said. As he regained his footing, he pushed the young man backwards causing him to fall into his girlfriend who tumbled across the two sisters.

“Hey,” the sisters cried out in unison. “Be careful.”

“What do you think you’re doing,” the young woman shouted.

“Your boyfriend needs to watch where he’s going,” the guy sneered.

The young man swung his right fist at the guy, missing him by only a couple inches. The guy with the headphones grabbed the man’s shirt and slammed him against the fire extinguisher.

She glanced toward the front of the bus.  The driver was watching everything in the rearview mirror.  The old woman continued crocheting: Up. Down. Wrap the yard. In. Out.

“Driver,” she called out. “Can’t you do something?”

Just as he unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out from behind the steering wheel, a loud crunch jolted the bus, sending all the standing passengers to the floor. An SUV hit the rear of the bus while trying to get out of the way of the fire truck.  The bus, in turn, crushed into the Kia causing the driver to pitch into the metal fire extinguisher case.

“Shit,” several people said at once.

“Fuck,” several other people said at once.

She righted herself, located her belongings and looked around. The punk with the headphones and the angry young man scrambled over passengers to reach the injured driver.  The sisters and the young woman helped people get up from the floor. 

The small child howled.

She stood and made her way to the priority seats where the old woman slouched with her chin against her chest.  The woman looked up at her when she spoke, touched the back of her hand to her bottom lip, and shook her head as if to clear her thoughts.

“I’ve phoned the police,” a voice said from the middle of the bus.

“We’ve got people back here hurt,” another said.

“The driver is unconscious,” the student said.

“Let’s get him onto the floor,” the punk suggested. Together the two stretched him out in the center aisle between the rows of seats. 

The old woman looked around as if she had dropped something, then spying her yarn on the floor, leaned forward to pick it up.

“Here, let me,” she said.  “You stay where you are.  I’ll get it.”

Her boyfriend retrieved it and passed it to her then she gave it to the woman.

A police officer pounded on the front doors of the bus, so the punk with the headphones located the mechanism and opened them for him.

 “Everyone sit tight,” the officer said. “We need everyone to stay on the bus and remain calm until we get things sorted.  EMT’s will be here shortly.”

“As soon as they can make it through all this traffic,” someone said and everyone laughed. Then, satisfied that the danger was past, they exhaled a collective sigh of relief. 

The old woman picked up her yarn, looped in around the fingers of her left hand to maintain the tension and began to crochet again.  Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out. Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out.

###

Rush Hour

Not many folks were in the park. Most massed on the sidewalk waiting for the light to cross onto Winter Street – that’s where I was headed myself. I clipped through Boston Common as quickly as I could without actually breaking into a run and getting my Hugh Boss sweaty. Light Gray. Skinny legs. Nice. Behind me was a chubby black girl, maybe 18 or 19; too much make-up and a hoodie. She carried an iced coffee and listened to music on her phone. Ahead of me tottered an old woman who had a battered backpack slung over one shoulder and a plain, metal cane in her right hand. She progressed so cautiously that I wondered why was she even out at eight in the morning, I mean, when the rest of us are trying to get to work. Surely, Granny could run her errands another time. After studying the area as if trying to get her bearings, she turned to swing around Brewer Fountain. I quickened my pace to pass her, and as I did, the cane skidded sideways on a patch of uneven bricks. She plummeted face-first but managed to bend her elbows so that her knees and forearms took the brunt of the fall. When her backpack slid free, a wrapped sandwich tumbled out. She glanced my way with a pleading look on her face. Clearly, she was struggling to get up and needed assistance. Noting that blood trickled from one of her skinned knees, I thought about my new suit. As I hesitated, the girl with the ear buds and lipstick called out, “Are you all right?” Thank God, I thought to myself then darted onto the Tremont Street sidewalk just as the light turned.

Loss

Why do we zero in on some things, and overlook others?

News outlets expose the ramifications of the Ebola outbreaks and what it has meant to some and what it might meant to others. I watch dispassionately.

Videos of dying children in Gaza and Israel go viral. I watch dispassionately.

Ebola and War affect more people and have the potential to change the entire world. Yet, for some reason I have compassion fatigue.

One participant — in a sport I don’t even enjoy — dies after he runs out into oncoming traffic, and I discuss it with friends for at least two days.

One actor takes his own life and time shuts down.

I have the same relationship with Robin Williams this morning as I did yesterday morning. I knew him through his work – movies, comedy skits, television – and all those things are still available. For years, I have been aware in at least a peripheral way that despite the funny exterior, he had a very serious and sometimes troubled interior, so I can’t even claim that what happened was a complete surprise.

The stupid, senseless loss of a young, vibrant racecar driver is shocking and provokes a great deal of anger.

I can’t even articulate my emotions regarding the loss of Robin Williams.