The Later Bus – A Rantle

RANTLE: A newfangled word, invented by a slightly ignorant writer, RANTLE means a rant that is also a ramble, specifically of the kind that is told (or written) in story form.

“There’s only one seat left,” the bus driver warned me. I looked quickly at my watch. I had time to spare, but not enough to take the chance of waiting for the next bus. I climbed up the steep steps and give the bus driver a few bills.

“Two ways, please,” I asked politely. I’m always polite to bus drivers. So many people are mean to them – abrupt and impatient and assuming, and I hate that. I know what it’s like to service people in one capacity or another, and every job like that is made better by nice people.

I got the change from the driver, thanked him and took my ticket from the little machine that spit the little pieces of paper out. As always, I wasn’t sure if the ticket was stuck or if I simply wasn’t pulling hard enough. I tugged at the ticket for another few seconds and it gave way. I tucked it it my wallet for the return journey.

The driver started backing up from the pick-up spot so that he could leave. The central bus-station always feels like an airport in that way – the bus is just like the plane, taxiing to the takeoff point and then setting off from the station and into the city streets until it reaches the highway where it goes up to full speed.

I looked down the aisle and began to walk, looking for the promised seat that was supposed to be left. I though I saw it, but then realized that there was a small girl sitting next to the window. I continued on until I realized that the one seat was being occupied by someone’s extremely large bag. Darn. I should have waited for the next bus. I ended up sitting on the steps near the back door.

The bus was hot and stuffy, and so much the worse where I was sitting. I didn’t have a window or a vent, just a solid door in front of me, two small trashcans next to me and the step behind me that led up to the aisle. I was sweating within minutes. Not the most pleasant experience in the world, I’ll grant you. As I said, I should have waited for the next bus to come.

I took my mp3 player out of my bag and chose a suitably amusing, energetic and yet disturbing band to listen to while I played one of the stupid games on the player to pass the time. My choice must have been a good one since the ride seemed to be over relatively quickly, although my skirt kept sticking to my knees and I had to shift constantly to be comfortable on the hard steps.

Getting off the bus should have been a wonderful experience – emerging from the musty, dusty space into real air. But, as luck would have it, today has been much hotter and more humid than the weekend was, and so when I got off the bus first I felt as if I’d dunked myself into a fetid and stagnant pool of hot water. Within moments, I was sweating worse than ever.

Now I had a choice. Either I could wait for another bus to take me two stops – about half a mile if that – or I could walk the distance. Despite the heat and the humidity in the air that made me feel as if I were walking through soup, I decided to walk. I looked at my watch again as I pulled my book out. Too early – I should have waited for the next bus. There was nothing I could do about it anymore, though. So I opened my book and began to walk. As usual, I didn’t collide with anyone or anything, which is to the good, but I also had a hard time enjoying the short walk because of the sun falling on my exposed arms and heating my black skirt and tank top so much that it felt as if they were burning onto me permanently.

It took me barely ten minutes to reach my destination – early, as I’d thought. Much too early. I couldn’t find a bench that had trees shading it and took a walk up to a park and then back down to the street, searching for a good place to sit in vein. I realized I was thirsty, so I went into a well-conditioned super-market to buy a bottle of water. I often wish that there were public drinking fountains here, like there are in much of Italy. Then I wouldn’t have to pay for water that is almost the same as tap water, except that the industry that makes the bottles that hold it are ruining the environment. But I digress. I bought the water and wished I could stay in the supermarket and continue enjoying the cold air that was being pumped from somewhere unseen. I was on the verge of asking the clerk behind the counter if there was a place I could sit for a few minutes there, but then realized that the man would say that there wasn’t and would shoo me out. Instead of dealing with the humiliation and unpleasentness of that, I just payed and left.

I finally found a shady spot, took out my computer, and typed up my account of the last two hours. The moral of the story? Yes, I should have taken the later bus.

Groceries

You can learn a lot about people when you go the grocery store. Well, perhaps that’s not right. Seeing them shop doesn’t tell you a thing about their life, not really, except for their attitude in a grocery-store, surrounded by ads, products, sales and other people. But I like to invent lives for them, as I pretend not to watch them.

There’s the man who’s losing his patience with his two young sons. There isn’t a woman around, and I assume that this man has already started his spring vacation from the office but his wife is still working. That’s why he needs to take the boys, who are on their vacations too, shopping with him. The man is large, tall and broad with a beer-stomach hanging over his belt, and his two boys look to be between eight and ten years old. Both have straight brown hair, not cut shortly but allowed to grow around their ears, and round faces, rosy with the fun of shopping. They run between carts, duck under baskets and then run back to their dad, shouting suggestions. He snaps at them, but it does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.

There are two women standing together at the cheap, bad quality clothing section. The clothes aren’t folded very well, and the shelves look a mess. Still, one of the women is holding up a shirt to the other one, and they seem to be deciding whether or not it’s worth it. I can almost hear their conversation, even though I have earphones on: Should I? No, I shouldn’t, right? Sure you should, look how cheap it is! But do you really think it’ll look good on me? Yeah, I do, but who cares – look how cheap it is!

At the checkout line, there’s a young man with curly brown hair and fuzz on his cheeks. He’s waiting patiently in line, which isn’t surprising, because he’s too occupied with a loud conversation he’s having with his cellphone. He smiles a lot and laughs, and I like to think he’s talking to a buddy, laughing about the antics they’re looking forward to experiencing during the coming weekend. He’s also looking around a lot, keeps turning around from his cart to gaze at the aisles. I think he might have met someone here a week ago, at around this hour, and that’s why he’s here again this week at the same time. He’s looking for her, this woman he laughed and chatted with and didn’t have the guts to ask out on a date last time.

In front of me, in my line, there are two women – they have to be mother and daughter, but they couldn’t look more different. The one who’s leaning on the cart is short, tiny, and ancient. Her hair has that bluish tinge to it and is thinning, and her hands look like a map, veins representing mountains or streams and the liver spots representing dwellings. Her daughter is middle-aged, probably around fifty or so, and is tall and skinny. Her face is lined, too, but from care or hurt rather than from age. She has sad eyes, even as she acts with great speed: taking things out of the cart, moving it to the other side of the register, starting to bag the items and putting them back in the cart, and paying her bill. She speaks familiarly to her mother, and even though her actions point to an efficiency and brisk character, there’s a subtle tinge of tragedy about her. Maybe a death of a loved one – husband, or maybe even a child.

And then, finally, it’s my turn at the register, and I mimic the sad woman’s efficiency, trying to get my things out of the way as fast as possible so I can get back home and out of the heat of this sunny March day.

4. Claire [3]

The first thing that struck Claire as she entered the cool interior of Bill’s was the smell of bread. The bakery section was very near the door, and it made her realize just how ravenous she was. Her belly rumbled as she walked over the woman behind the counter of the bakery section. She stood and watched the woman for a moment; she was kneading dough. Claire was impressed. Can’t believe the neighborhood shop bakes its own bread, she thought. The smell was so good that she felt faint.

“Excuse me?” she spoke up, shyly.

“Yes, dear?” the woman behind the counter raised her head and smiled.

“How much is one of those rolls?”

“These? The whole-grain ones? They’re a buck each. Or a dozen for ten.”

“Okay, I’ll take a dozen please.”

The woman took her hands out of the dough and picked up a flat piece of cardboard which she deftly folded into a box. She then took the long metal tongs and took twelve of the warm rolls out of the glass display, put them into the box, closed it, and handed it to Claire.

“Thanks,” Claire smiled.

“Sure, sugar,” and she put her hands back into the dough in front of her and continued kneading fiercely.

Claire, having gotten a trolley, walked up and down the aisles of the store, getting the items her father had written down. She munched on one of the rolls as she walked, and found it delicious. It was so good that she promptly began another one upon finishing the first. It was hungry business, this grocery shopping. Still, she pondered, I like it. I like doing this alone. This is a good thing, Dad making us move here.

She brought her items to one of the unoccupied cashiers, marveling again at the possibility of there not being a line at a store – this would never happen in New York – and paid. The bag-packer was quick and efficient and looked like he was about eighteen years old. Claire eyed him as she thanked him, and thought that the lock of hair flopping into his eye was simply adorable. Her good mood was ruined, however, when she glanced at a big neighborhood noticeboard that was by the exit door. She saw various posters and fliers on it, but the one that seemed to bring a dark cloud over her was a big poster for a pep-rally that had taken place a few nights ago for the local high-school’s football team.

School, she scowled. I do NOT want to start a new school.