Friday, August 01, 2008

On the Bus

"Goin' to work?" he says as I sit down next to him. Oh boy, so it's going to be a conversational bus-ride, I think, but then immediately check myself; okay so he's friendly, what's the big deal? Show a little humanity for pete's sake! "Yes," I reply, "you too?"

"Nope, I'm headed to the grinder to get this part ground down to the right size for my motorcycle." He reaches into his pocket and reveals a little pipe. "This'll save me a couple hundred bucks, you know. They told me it was a $600 fix but I thought no way, I can do it for less, and I figured out I could order the part on the internet in a larger size and then just have it ground down to the size I need. Yeah, people on the internet were making fun of me for the idea but then they came around and they were like, 'oh yeah, I think that just might work!' So I'll let them know when it does and maybe this'll just be the new way for people to save some money."

"Well, it sounds like a good idea," I reply, trying to remain open-minded to this one-sided conversation with a stranger.

"Where do you work?" he asks. I hate this question. Do I reveal my employer and risk a stranger's misguided judgment about my profession? Will he turn up at my work and stalk me later? "I'm an attorney," I answer truthfully.

"Okay, attorney, I have one for you." Here we go, I think. It's either a lawyer joke or a request for legal advice. "I was on the bus a year ago," he begins, "and the floor was really slippery because of the rain, and the bus slammed on the brakes rather than miss a stop and I fell forward and broke my ankle."

"Oh wow, what a bummer," I say.

"Yeah it cost me about $4000 in medical bills, you know, and when I confronted Metro they were just like 'well good luck with that' and just sent me on my way. So what should I do?"

"Well, you could file a claim in small claims court, that might be a place to start," I say. He isn't interested in my answer.

"I've spent some time in the law," he says. "A couple years ago my neighbor thought I tried to shoot him."

Oh boy, I think. I nervously check his hands; Is he hiding a weapon somewhere? I'm thinking about this horrible news story that I read yesterday. One minute you're sitting there and the next minute someone is stabbing you, I think.

"Huh," I laugh nervously, "that seems like a hard thing to misunderstand." I mean, either you tried to shoot him or you didn't, I think.

"Yeah, I was the guardian for this guy's father. They kept his father in the garage, [what?] you know, and this guy just wanted to stop me from being guardian so that he could get his father's house. He needed an intervention, an intervention with a 357 if you know what I mean."

Oh my goodness, I think. What am I supposed to say to that? Can I move seats at this point without provoking this man to violence?

He blathers on, "The court didn't believe him. The judge was like, 'I've known you for years' to me, [Known you for years? The judge? And why would that be?] He didn't believe what that guy was saying. So I got a deferred prosecution and it was dismissed six months later. That guy was just a bad guy, you know he broke his daughter's arm once and tore half of her ear off. Some people just need to be put to sleep."

I'm looking around, trying to make eye contact with any of my fellow passengers. I'm sending out a telepathic S.O.S. I want them to be aware that I am sitting by a weirdo; to be ready to intervene if necessary.

He switches topics, back to the motorcycle part and which bus he's going to take to get to the grinder's. "Well, good luck to you," I say to him as I rise to get off the bus.

"Oh, there's the bus tunnel; this is where I need to transfer," he says.

He follows me off the bus and I power-walk the 2 blocks to my building, trying to seem friendly and unsuspicious as I glance over my shoulder.

It is 7:45 a.m. I unlock my office and use my key-card to enter. I'm sweating and my hands are shaking.

Now it's 4:45, and I scoot over to make room for the passenger sitting down next to me. A spicy smell washes over me; half sweat and half something else. I listen to the after-work chatter around me. Now a couple is arguing loudly as they stand in the aisle: she is positive that $1.75 plus $1.75 equals $2.50 while he is certain it adds up to $3.50.

I turn toward my seat-mate to get a better look at the faces of the couple in the aisle. I notice now the source of the unidentified spice: my seat-mate is holding a large sprig of rosemary. He turns and catches my eye, holding up the plant like a child showing off a new toy.

"It smells goot, yes?" he asks. He smiles like a first-timer; all a-marvel at the simple discovery of something so wonderful. "Yes, very good," I say, mentally noting his accent and beautiful dark skin. "It's called Rosemary," I say, guessing that he doesn't know. "Rosemerry," he repeats, flashing big white teeth to indicate his approval. He brings it to his nose and inhales the scent, then offers me a sniff. "Mmm, I love that smell," I tell him, breathing in deeply.

"Did you know you can cook with it?" I ask him. "No, I just got it. Somebutty tole me about it," he says, "Wha can I cook with it? Maybe in a soop?"

"Sure, in a soup is good," I say, and explain that he can either put the whole thing in the soup and then take it out before eating the soup, or he can dice up the needles and leave them in the soup to eat. "Ohhh, I don' eat this part," he clarifies, pointing to the woody stock. "No," I laugh, "it won't taste very good."

We talk a little about where he's from. Ethiopia, it turns out. He's been in the U.S. for a few years now, starting out in South Dakota, where he worked in a meat factory. "It's just so cold there," he says, "it snow for six months."

He's trying to register for an ESL class. He's trying to get a job. He's living with his sister and her husband. "Seattle is just so beeg," he says several times, "what a beeg, beeg city."

I wish him good luck as I get up to leave, "with your job search, and with your rosemary."

He offers a wide smile as he waves goodbye.

It is 5:05 p.m. and I walk toward home. I'm happy and my heart is dancing.


slouching mom said...

beautiful ending, ally.

just beautiful.

i'll be thinking about rosemary all day now.

(i'm glad you're ok. that first part sounded really frightening.)

Amy said...

I love bus stories! It would be a great book. Everyone having these little introductions to each other all over the city. It's funny to start off your morning and end your day with total strangers. It's nice to see different people and get their stories and then go home to your family. :)

Amy said...

That news story is horrific!

KarenP said...

Fabulous writing, as always. What a slice of humanity.

Alicia said...

I'm struck by the contrast of the two men. One was so eager to blame others for his current situation while complaining about his lot in life. The other was taking action to improve his situation with an optimistic view on everything new. I hope that you meet more of the latter...the type that fill you up rather than empty you out. I know that you're a filler-upper for all of us!

Keep writing. We love it!

jen said...

i love this post, sister. but i too had that horrible bus ride story in my head at first.

opening ourselves up to the humanity of others isn't always comfortable or even understandable, is it?..perhaps that encounter was something he needed from you.

Julie Pippert said...

Oh this is so vivid and real, yet personal. Beautifully written.

Seattle Mamacita said...

i love the bus for this very reason...beautiful image of this man with the rosemary..

Lori said...

What a contrast of encounters. The first one left me shaking too... And the second, also made me smile.

Humanity is tricky, isn't it?