It's late but not terribly late. The F Market is stuffed full of tourists, baseball caps and shopping bags flapping out the windows, between the doors, but a #6 bus is right behind it, almost empty.
It's just us late workers on the bus, rolling quiet down Market Street. A woman gets on, she's stooped and seems to have trouble walking, her face hidden under a kerchief. The driver says "No," and a sob rips up from deep inside her, from the soles of her feet, tearing through and shuddering her whole body. She stands - barely stands - her back to us and facing the driver, wordless and heaving.
The driver tells her No again, and he'll have to call the police, get off his bus unless she can pay.
A man has gotten on behind her, he engages the driver, Let her ride, please, just let her ride.
The man has a speech impediment or he's maybe developmentally disabled, his words half-swallowed, but his righteous anger makes him glow.
The woman's sobs crash over us in waves, she's making words now, Please, and Only two stops.
Man and driver still arguing, back and forth, Two dollars, says the driver, and the man puts in money, Two dollars for her, too, and the man stares the driver down, Just let her ride, only two stops, let her ride.
You gonna pay for her, too?
The man shuts his mouth. His eyes are wide, staring at the driver.
The woman sobs. I've cried that way three times in my life. I know that sound. For whatever reason, she believes her world will end if she is forced to walk the two long blocks along Market Street.
I have two dollars. I'm sure I have two dollars, cash, in my purse. I could walk it to the front of the bus and save her. I don't. I don't know why. I could still, but I sit where I am.
The man finds his voice again. Let her ride. And then he puffs up his chest. He's tall, his eyes wide, he says something loudly and I see his hand makes contact with the driver's arm. It looks like just a touch, but now the driver is yelling, saying he'll call the cops, but the man's voice is bigger. Slow down, he says.
Slow. Down. Slow down. I didn't mean to touch you. I'm sorry. But let her ride.
He's wonderful. The driver sees he can't win. Okay, he says, shaking his head. Okay. You're responsible.
He closes the door and the woman's sobs stop. She sits close to the front. Thank you, she says. She turns to the man who stood up for her. Thank you. He nods.
She glances over one shoulder at the rest of us, sitting silent on the bus. She isn't old. She's no more than thirty, if that. She's beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Heart-shaped face, full lips, enormous lavender eyes.
But that face is covered with open sores. Deep, vicious divots the size of quarters. They will scar and never, ever go away. Her hands are swollen, held in close to her chest.
Her eyes flicker over us, then she turns away.