Posted by: MC | November 7, 2011

Standard Time

I just got on the bus.  It’s Sunday afternoon.  As I enter, I step carefully around two people rummaging the floor; an older woman with “a serious disability, so I can’t stand up,” and a short balding man.  Both are bent over and reaching to pick up the contents of a spilled purse.  The large black handbag belongs to the young mom who sits at the front of the bus with an infant and toddler in her lap.  It’s unclear exactly what led to this scene.  One of those slices of life played out in close space; wide ranging in players and circumstances are pretty common on the #12.

The mom and her children sit unspeaking, unexpressive.  Their eyes are turned toward the busy pair.  I join the other dozen or so other passengers who serve as onlookers – witnesses – audience.

“We’re just throwing it all back in here,” the woman calls out to the young mom.  “Let’s make sure to get the change,” she says to the man.  “Wouldn’t hurt to clean out your purse,” she continues, “but looks like you got some good money here.”  She reaches for the last quarter.  The man’s face and head go from pink to red the longer he bustles over the spill.  The bus rumbles on.

The two helpers complete their project and return the reloaded purse to the young mom.  Strangers before the event, they display their new camaraderie by turning their attention in tandem toward the silent young family.  The older woman reaches out her hand to the toddler, “Want to come over here, little man?”  He stands his ground between his mother’s knees and looks at the woman.  The man is now trying to coax the toddler to sit down on the floor of the bus.  He’s worried the little boy will fall with one of the bus’s frequent bumps and lurches.  The mom looks at the man.  “She’s got him,” the woman says asserting her assessment of the toddler’s safety.  As if on cue, the toddler begins to wobble toward the woman, a slight, even stealthy smile in his eyes.  The young mom and the balding man reach out at the same time.  They guide the toddler back into his mom’s secure hold.

“Today’s his birthday,” the older woman says of the toddler.  “Birthday number 2.”  Who knows how she got this information.  From the time I stepped on the bus, the mom hasn’t spoken.  But there’s a cake (mostly brightly colored icing) on the shelf behind her, and the inevitable back story from all the stops before I boarded.  Awkward though it may be, these three adults are familiar now.  Momentum, gravity and the unsecured contents of a purse have seen to that.  Crossing ages, ethnicities, abilities and lives they are here, right now and dealing with what is in front of them.

We’ve come to the stop where the young mother is getting off.  The two helpers make their respective moves to help her unfold a barely functional stroller.  She loads in both children and backs out the front door.  “Don’t forget the cake!” the older woman calls.  “Or I can take it with me,” she laughs.  The young mom looks at the woman.  She picks up the cake and steps off again.  With its customary swish, the door closes and the bus rolls on.

The woman and the man are sitting on the same side of the bus now.  “Where you from?” the man finally speaks.  “Arkansas,” says the woman, “What about you?”  “Oklahoma,” he responds.  “Yeah, I recognized the accent,” he adds.  They proceed to review the headlines on the earthquake tremors inOklahomatoday.  The man is surprised by the news.  The bus driver adds details.  The bus stops and the older woman makes her way to the street.

Another mom is waiting with her four children, the oldest in a wheel chair, all under 6.  The fivesome moves into the bus in easy form.  They’ve done this many times before.  The bus driver and the balding man help secure the oldest girl’s wheelchair.  There are tortillas and a small tattered piñata in the chair’s back pocket.  The other three children clamor to sit in the back.  “Ok, but you have to sit down and stay put,” the mom cautions.  She watches after them. The toddler weaves her way behind the older children, all of them chattering and laughing.  We onlookers continue in our roles.  A few passengers shift a bit to accommodate the newly arrived children.  “All ready, sweetheart?” the bus driver asks the newly boarded mother.  “All set,” says the mom.

So the bright autumn afternoon unfolds.  A woman to my right in hijab asks whether the bus clock is in fact an hour late.  It is; last night’s time change yet to be registered.  The extra hour fills like every other hour with the small story lines of everyday human community.  Here, dealing, helping as needed.  It’s a continuity that may never be scripted; the stories we live together rolling on oddly flawless in all their troubles, all their grace.

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