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.


jason evans said...

Reads like a symphony. Thank you for sharing, CB.

Caryn said...

Fascinating. I love reading about the strangers in your life, their pieced-together conversations, their appearances, their worries and hopes. Almost makes me wish I had to ride the bus--if we had a bus system in our town, which we do not.

mysfit said...

i like how each interaction defines the one - perfection - like the woman is defined by the flowers and the mother by the boy and the son by the father and the man by the bread and the woman by her phone

very strong writing, m'dear

Geo said...

I'd like to ride the bus with you. I'd sit toward the back of your mind where I could watch you watch people.


P.S. When will you be here?

Chemical Billy said...

Thanks, Jason.

Caryn, apparently, without the bus, I wouldn't have a life.

Mysfit, it's good to "see" you again. I missed you.

Geo, when you come to SF, I'll take you on a magic bus ride. Oh, and P.S. I'll be there in September!

Bones said...

How can anyone not love MUNI, I ask you.

mysfit said...

hey billy , i miss you too without quotes even)

Anonymous said...

This scene you've made so visceral & charmed by your presence is why Sayler & I love SF & why I love you, ma Belle. I think Sayler'd like you, too, if he ever met you when we were as we are now -- snuggling. I'm not anonymous. I just don't get this blogging biz, btw.