Every day, you wake up, eat breakfast, and walk down the five flights of steep, stone-cold stairs. As a cheery neighbor greets you, you put on a fake smile and fast walk out the door. You’ve never been a big “people person,” or a dog person, or even a cat person for that matter. Should you be someone? As you step out into the traffic, you realize your morning is already buzzing by and you haven’t even gotten your coffee. 7:57. A small boy and his dad walk up to the bus stop. The boy can barely reach his father’s hand. They sit and talk, play patty-cake. Will you ever have kids? Or even just a relationship as special as that? A warm feeling fills your stomach. The wind blows. You shiver and watch as the small boy and his father hail a cab. 8:06. The strange old woman comes. She’s the one who feeds the pigeons, who searches through trash for cans and bottles. You wonder if she ever had someone. 8:13. You kick a rock. No buses. 8:28 ticks by, the latest time you can get on the bus and be at work by 9:00. Finally. The M31 creeps down the traffic-covered hill and you step up the black-and-yellow stairs. You choose your favorite seat, near the back, sit down, and watch. You can see the whole bus, everything that goes on. A million little stories, and a million different feelings flood the open space.
The York Avenue bus. From 63rd to 91st. You spend about 45 minutes a day on average on that bus. The part that makes it all worthwhile are the people. French kids. Doctors and nurses. Crying babies. You see and hear little bits and pieces of people’s days and sometimes, for the slightest moment, you take off your veil of aloneness and intertwine. Giving someone your seat, loaning someone change, or even just exchanging a glance when the cranky old lady yells at a little kid. You need the confusion, the distraction from the loneliness. When you’re on the bus, you’re an observer.
You’re not there.
A fly on the wall.
Bits of conversations fly through your thoughts, you take in. With each breath you inhale the moods of others. You get on the bus and get off, leaving behind the stories for the next day.
One day, you stepped up the yellow-and-black steps, ready to absorb. As you sat down, a cute little baby and his mother caught your eye. Buttoned up in his shiny white jacket, he was happy, and observing just like you. Suddenly, BUMP, spit-up on the seats. On the floor. On that little white jacket. “It’s all right,” the mother whispered, “it’s OK.” An old man, lifting his silent vow of isolation, offered the baby’s mother a napkin. You watched. Two friends made that would never see each other again. Ever. Bus stops. Baby and mother get off. And the old man’s eyes were glued to that little baby. You looked out the window and saw a mirror image. Smiling, waving, gleaming blue eyes lit up. But off the bus, continuing with the push and pull of daily life, the man and the baby disappear into oblivion. Forgotten. In the world of borrowed bus stories.