i have a routine. it goes like this: get on bus. take off backpack. sit down in the left rear seat. remove hat and gloves. place hat and gloves in lap. place backpack in lap over hat and gloves. tilt head forty-five degrees to the left and glance out the window. admire dusk. fall immediately and soundly asleep for exactly 41 minutes. wake up as bus is exiting the expressway and approaching my stop. get off bus. walk home.
i like my routine. the bus is darkened, and cozy, and quiet, highly conducive to sleep. when i was a very young person, my parents would take me on short car-rides to get me to fall asleep. as a result, if i am passive and in a car, bus, train, boat, or plane, i will fall asleep. it is not a possibility; it is a sure thing.
yesterday i followed my routine with only one modification: there were no left-side window seats so i took the middle back bench seat instead.
about fifteen minutes later, i awoke to the sound of a woman screaming.
if you have ever heard someone scream ‘help!’ – not yell, or shout, but really scream – you understand very well the reaction i will describe next.
exactly one-half of my brain went GO HELP. exactly one-half of my brain went STAY HERE.
my legs twitched, and i don’t mean a little dreaming-puppy-paws twitch, i mean a full-on spasm, both feet kicking outwards as my synapses battled between STAND UP NOW and SIT THE FUCK DOWN. it was the singularly strangest physical sensation i can remember having.
the woman kept screaming. the bus kept moving. no one stood up. what the fuck?!
finally she shut up, and as my eyes adjusted to the low light i could stare up the aisle to what was going on. there seemed to be some sort of heated conversation between the woman, who i could now see standing at the front of the bus, and the bus driver, who i know to be a very calm, slightly ditzy woman with a pleasant demeanour. the thought of her involved in an altercation of any kind was just too weird, let alone with this diminutive, white-haired banshee.
the woman started screaming again. ‘help! help! she won’t let me off her bus!’ she added suddenly, as the commuters on either side of me heaved large sighs and mumbled something about catching traffic on the bridge. this kept up for block upon city block, light upon red light. the bus driver indeed would not let the screaming woman off the bus.
i just didn’t know what to do. the mom-voice in my head said, ‘just sit tight and stay out of trouble. someone older and bigger than you will do something to help.’ but no one older or bigger than me was doing anything at all. it was bad and wrong and i felt confused and stupid. i was just about to give up, stand up, and try to do something when the driver pulled the bus over, parked, and made an announcement that none of us could hear because of her quiet voice and the woman’s screams.
five minutes passed. aside from sporadic screaming, the woman was smiling cheerfully as she looked around the bus at all of us. some murmuring of bus-riders left me with pieces of the puzzle, that the screaming woman hadn’t had the correct fare but had been let on the bus anyway, and then had insisted that she be dropped off at a random streetcorner – something just not done on commute-route buses, i suppose to cut down on travel time and city traffic.
then the police showed up. the overhead lights blazed on, leaving us all blinking and grumpy. the screaming woman and the bus driver left. the bus driver came back, asked for two people from the front, apparently as witnesses, and they all left. we waited. i listened to the people next to me speculate on the screaming woman’s sanity. i thought about her cheery grin. i yawned.
without any explanation, the bus driver and witnesses returned and we were on our way. i glanced out the window to see the police talking carefully to the screaming woman, who was simply smiling serenely up at them.