Waiting for the 12th Street Bus
“I’m not sure how I got here,” the woman whispered.
Her hands trembled. Sweat and wet hair framed the contours of her narrow face. From what I could see, she was wearing what looked like pajamas, maybe hospital scrubs. I couldn’t tell. Despite my shaded lenses, the sun was blinding, almost disorienting. I could only see brief flashes of her thin frame, her trembling hands, and her dark wet hair.
I wondered, how long have I been waiting?
She sat next to me on the bench, holding a black plastic bag in one hand and crumpled bills in the other.
“I walked for hours,” she said, “crossing streets, looking at signs, hearing horns honk. You know-- this isn’t real, this bench, the glare on your glasses, the bottles of pills in my bag. We aren’t really here. I used to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Mr. Sandman. My doctor said a good imagination is the key to sanity, so who am I to think otherwise? Can you see me? Am I here? Can you tell me how to get to 12th street? I know what loneliness smells like.”
She stared at me waiting for answers.
I looked at my wrist for the watch I used to have, I looked for my phone, looked at the street, looked for the bus, and looked at the bubblegum on the ground. I finally looked at her, and I said, “I’m not sure how to get there, but if you walk that way, I’m sure you’ll find someone who knows.”
As I pointed down the street, I wondered, where is that bus? Am I waiting at the wrong stop?
She looked at me and laughed and whispered, “May God bless you.”
When I looked up, to watch her walk away, she was no longer there. Somehow, she managed to disappear down the street or enter a building.
I felt relieved. I preferred waiting alone. I preferred not having to listen to someone and not having to talk. I preferred being blinded by the noonday sun. I was happy I couldn’t see her. I was happy she wouldn’t be etched in my mind, this strange whispering, lost woman.
I sat there waiting for the bus-- 30 minutes, an hour, a day, waiting for the shush of the brakes, the pause before the opening of the doors, the voices trailing off as each person stepped off. I sat there wondering, waiting, and thinking it smells like wet leaves; it smells like fall.