Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bus writer

He's at least seventy-five, maybe in his eighties. His face is bright red, a fringe of silky white hair around a bald top. When I walk past him to a seat in the back, he jumps, swinging his face around at me, eyes bugging out like I'd just straddled his lap.

I sit behind him. He's holding a fistful of crumpled notebook paper, the wide ruling not big enough for his looping handwriting - each line of text takes up four lines of paper.

I can read it over his shoulder.

...but Mr. Berghof said that he preferred a rural setting. After a light meal dinner on board, Berghof indulged in a "coffee-brew," as the phrase goes.

C-- continued...

The old man bunches up his shoulders like he can feel me eavesdropping, a burning on the back of his neck. He puts one gnarled hand flat on the paper, covering up the words, then folds it emphatically into thirds, scrawling something on the backside before shuffling it with the other papers he holds.

He straightens his sheaf of paper on his lap, then tucks it into a blue folder, automatically putting it down to his right, as though he expects to find a filing cabinet there, instead of the floor of the bus. He swivels his head around, looking for his truant filing cabinet before shifting the folder to his left hand and setting it on the seat beside him.

He drums his fingers on his knee, then reaches again for the blue folder, removing the sheaf of papers, and turning the folder inside out before replacing the papers.

My stop is coming up. It's only reluctantly that I leave him behind, glaring at me accusingly when I dare to pass him again.

His words stay with me all day. Coffee-brew. Does the phrase go that way? I've never heard it before. Is he a nutcase, or a successful writer? Is there a difference?

Coffee-brew, I think, walking to work. Coffee-brew, coffee-brew, coffee-brew.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The long ride home

I sit near the back of the bus. In front of me is an old man, with his middle-aged son. The old man is talking, an endless stream of words dribbling out of his mouth, his son looking out the window.

"I know I've always been a negative person, there was a thing in me, this negativity, I don't know how to get around it..."

A beautiful young black man sits with a friend. He turns to look out the back window, showing tattoos on his long neck.

"People are killing each other over water, man," he says, gesturing with a paper bag, "and here we are with croissant sandwiches." He shakes his head, an orange-red gem flashing brilliantly from one earlobe.

"Your sister's the same, you know," the old man is spilling out a lifetime of words, the sun shining through the thin tissue of his ear, "Negative, negative, all of us, the whole family..."

A woman with blond hair pulled into a tight bun gets on. She carries a bouquet of pink tea roses, the petals tender as a baby's lips. Her face doesn't match; she squints and grimaces, mouth hanging open.

Behind me, I hear a woman talking on her cell phone:

"So I asked her what she saw in him, and she showed me his letters. His letters. I said, 'Girl, of course he's gonna be writing you good letters. He's in prison. He doesn't have anything else to do...'"

A plump boy comes toward the back with his mother. She pushes him toward a seat while she sits across the aisle. They're speaking Spanish, but I can tell he objects to his seat: a homeless man sits beside him. The mother trades places with him.

"I mean, she was the one who called the cops on him in the first place. And she's all like, 'no, he isn't like that any more. I mean, I didn't know he was a child molester...'"

"Negative, all of us. Even you. You're negative, all the time..."

"...and she's all, 'No, he's totally changed, he's different now,' and I'm saying, well, how do you know? I mean, he's been in prison for years..."

The homeless man holds a chunk of bread with both hands. He's a white man, but his skin is burnt ashy. He gets off at Haight, and I watch him walk slowly down the street as the bus pulls away.