Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The wheels on the bus

I now have a lovely little bus ride - from Georgetown to the White House and back again each day. I try to stay up front as long as I can, watching the traffic and the people and the embassies and the magnolias. I have Nick Drake playing - one song that makes me smile and smile and smile.

The thing is, the busses get so crowded, and they jerk around so - they're no place for the unsure-footed. Usually this isn't a problem, since 80% of the commuting population are earnest young interns in ties or sweater sets (me among them, I guess).

This evening, I got on the bus a little late, and as we rolled through a financial-looking district, old men in rumpled suits and square leather briefcases made their way about half-back. They looked tired and hot, and way past retirement age, and I my heart sank a little at their situation. I always assume the worst, you know, about a person's life.

One of the men, a small gentleman with withered hands was given a seat by a willowy brunette wearing "business" casual slung low about her hips. The girls standing in front of me rolled their eyes at one another and complained loudly about the rude people who did not give over seats to older busriders. They chewed on this for awhile, complaining to one another and tilting their heads pertly this way and that.

Unbelievably, when a seat vacated near them, they practically dove for it, basically under the arm of the other white-haired fellow, round and flushed and with a billowing, wrinkled suit. He was a very large man, and he tried to hold onto two bars to keep his balance. I was a few seats behind him, but hopped up and quietly reached over to tap his shoulder. He took the seat gratefully.

As the bus emptied out, the young interns watched him with sad watery eyes, and, inexplicably glanced at me, as if I knew something about aging, having reached across to touch this alien form in their midst.

"I could never," their expressions begged, "I could never be old and fat and alone on a bus with young uncaring children. Could I? I will always be young, I will always be beautiful, I will always have my life curling out before me with untold promises and safe, sure paths."

"Thank you," he whispered at me as he settled next to a young man wearing a borrowed shirt.

"It's my pleasure," I said and turned my face towards him and smiled with my mouth and my eyes.