Written in Ink
Written in Ink
Illustration for article titled A woman on the bus.

December 9th, 2013

I'm riding the bus home around 11, after a battery of final exams on the final day of the sem­ester and some time at the gym. A class­mate of mine came into the testing center to discover there was no test waiting for him, how­ever. If he does not take this test, he will fail. For the next half-hour, he and the proctor, both young, broad-shouldered men, are on the verge of coming to blows through the glass par­tition.


Later, on the tram downtown, I sit behind a couple of men, sweet-smelling and slightly inebriated tourists, who are explaining to their young female companion the use of models to predict the freez­ing points of a certain iso­tope. At the gym I only row a trifling 500 meters, but at a personal best of 164 watts. I'm moti­vated to do well by the fact that at night the light spills out the glass walls on either side of me. The people waiting in their cars at the red light 10 feet away are no doubt watching me and I mustn't em­barrass myself in front of an audience. I do not lean back quite enough on the finish, but I'm not writhing fran­tically like I was towards the end of the trigono­metry exam, at which point I had resorted to plugging each answer into the cal­culator to squeeze one last drop from that stone.

On my way home I have in mind this help­less­ness, this pro­pensity to solve things by force, when a woman (henceforth known as "Scooter") boards the bus in a large motor­ized wheel­chair, her basket replete with groceries. Scooter has oriented herself the wrong way, and spends several minutes inching back and forth to pivot this bionic exten­sion of her body in between the stroller rack and the third row of seats. The bus is packed at this hour; it is one of the last buses of the night and already it's taken a minute just to fold the seats and deploy the ramp. Scooter came on the bus with another man, who quickly positions himself at the rear exit and watches with no more inter­est than anyone else. Between the two of them they have brought inside our crowded vehicle the warm smell of alco­hol that descends on this neigh­bor­hood at night.

The man in the seat across from her gets up so the bus driver can fold his bench as well and allow Scooter extra room to pivot. He's missed his other bus and recounted a brief life story when he approached me near a construct­ion site close to the depot. (Do you have change for a five? -No, I don't, sorry.) The man's mind is con­fused, but he holds up well for the rest of the ride; earlier he had trouble pinning a date on his mother's death from cancer, perhaps it was four years ago, maybe it was last year. He wanted to know if the situation has improved for the homeless these past one or four years. No, they haven't, the plans for a tent city were opposed. It's likely he won't go anywhere hospit­able tonight.

The night is wearing on, and everyone knows that wheel­chair-bound passengers can delay the bus about 10 minutes. This could be the span of time that could make or break a connection with the last bus of the night. Finally, an enormous man in a SECURITY t-shirt and an out-of-place GUATEMALA lanyard makes his way to the front, seizes Scooter's wheel­chair by the rear axle and sets her in place, and the bus driver steps in to secure Scooter's chair with four red bands that retract at the push of a button that prevent her from shifting in place during the ride. I don't think she has said a word this whole time.


SECURITY goes back to his seat and continues to whisper things into a woman's ear that he occasion­ally licks while she tries to overcome the first page of a Danielle Steel novel. Afterwards, he recognizes a man who boards the bus as an employee of his predilect super­market chain and engages him in a loud and be­laboured conver­sation about the shifting number of Winn-Dixies and Sweetbays in the Bay Area. With his feat of strength he has earned the privilege of doing all this and more.

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