I got on the bus just before a very old lady with a walker and a fancy hat, as the driver let the ramp down first and it makes more sense to park my chair before her walker, kind of shrugging and smiling a little and she nodded and smiled back. I am so relieved she isn’t annoyed. She is very beautiful, her skin drawn very fine over her high cheekbones. On the bus she asked me some questions about my chair. How much… What was the cause… She would like one maybe but feels she needs the exercise. She has a nice accent, faintly British sounding but African or Caribbean, I can’t tell. I talked about my free tai chi class at the senior center. Another lady got on with a very large wide walker and could not get past. “Mira….” she said, grabbing the first lady’s walker to fold it. “No, you can’t…” The walker was not foldable because the basket underneath was full of stuff including Michele Obama’s book. No, no, I’ll go back here (I slowly trundle further back on the luckily uncrowded bus) and turn around, then there’s room. The first lady didn’t want to scoot down a seat. So the one with the large walker was now able to go around and sit next to her. “What does that mean, Cowwwwwmoooca?” “….?” Comooooooca over there on that sign? I peer around the front of the bus. “Cumaica. I ummmm I don’t think that’s a spanish word it’s probably from some indian language like the name of a place. Maybe it’s Mayan? Or like, sounds more like an um, Taino or Arawak sort of language? I don’t know” THe spanish speaking lady nods when I sum this up as “una palabra de los indios?”. Well you can find out. Tell me what it means. “Ok… ok yeah I can look it up right now. (thumbing my phone) I love the internet. OK uhhh it’s definitely gonna be a place name. Yes! It’s a place in Nicaragua.” But what does it MEAN. I don’t know…. I’d have to dig a little more. Another lady gets on the bus, sparkly eyed, about my age, in a cute scarf. “Oh! You! You are so pretty. You look so familiar. You look beautiful, just like my mother!” “Well what a nice compliment. I like that. Thank you!” “Yes, you could be from my village. It is not really a village but it was. In Ethiopia. Where are your people from?” “I can’t really, we don’t really know a lot but actually I’m researching my geneology and making my family tree. ” “Well you can get the DNA” says the Ethiopian lady. “Yes I’ve been thinking about doing it. I’m going to do it. Did you know you can go to the place, in the East Bay they have a big place, the Mormons, and look up a lot of that history. I don’t know why the Mormons have it but they do.” I chime in. “It’s because they think everyone in their records goes to their heaven.” “They really think that?” “I guess so.” “Well…. huh. ” We all laugh at this.
The Spanish speaking lady with the big walker has to get off the bus. We prepare to do our do-si-do dance in reverse but the bus driver is angry. She is grabbing the Ethiopian lady’s walker but she’s holding onto it tight. “No! You don’t have to do that. She is going to move back there and then she is going around. ” MA’AM…. MA’AM… YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME says the grim bus driver lady. MA’AM YOU HAVE TO LISTEN. We are all arguing with the bus driver and trying to explain we have it under control. The bus driver wrestles the walker away from our dignified friend. “She took it. She didn’t have to do that. Well!” We all look at each other. The lady with the large walker gets off, ducking her head in apology at stirring up a problem. The bus driver gets back onto the bus with the walker. “YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO ME” she scolds. “YOU SEE HOW EASY THAT WAS? YOU SEE HOW EASY THAT COULD HAVE BEEN? YOU ALMOST GOT THAT LADY FALLING OVER. YOU CAN”T BE TRIPPING THAT OTHER LADY.” “That isn’t how it was, you see, we were going to move back and let her get off.” she said firmly. I spoke up as well and said, that’s how she got on, we just moved for her and it was fine! But, we shrugged and let the driver keep talking. She finally went back to take the wheel. Behind the partition out of her sight, I stick out my tongue like a child, playing to my sympathetic audience so we can get a laugh out of our sadness. “What are you going to do. The truth is the truth.” says our queen. “She has a hard job. But she could have had more respect,” I say. We all laugh kind of like we just did at the Mormons’ database of heaven.
“My mother would like you.” our friend resumed. “The place where my village, not really a village, it is a PROVINCE, well, it was good, and the people were so friendly and good. Well, now, you could not even buy a house, a place just the size of this, this front of the bus, just so little, is 300 thousand dollars! You can’t live there.” “Well…. Someone sure got rich off of that,” I say. “They did, and you know who got rich from it…. ” No… who? “The ones who came to power. They got rich.” We all are thinking on that as the lady my age who looks like the 90 year old Ethiopian lady’s mom gets off the bus waving to us. “I am going to the doctor. The new one isn’t as good, because, they aren’t by the ferry building, so I don’t get as nice of a lunch.” We discuss the pleasures of the Ferry building and then I have to go. Sometimes the ephemeral nature of these bus friendships gets to me. I think that I will have a good old age someday. There will be moments of indignity but also we will have solidarity and a good time.