Sunday, December 11, 2005

Paying customer

I was glad I got the bus on time. I had just seen a movie and spent some times reading a book in the bookstore. I was not sure I wanted to buy it so I read the first two chapters and then decided that I could just come back to read some more.
She was sitting at the bus stop, an old woman who had just lit up a cigarette. In the instant it took me to turn around to see the bus coming, the woman had already put the cigarette away. As I let her climb in the bus first, she puts her hand to her mouth to feel her front tooth. She is shaking it with the pleasure of a kid playing with a temporary tooth about to fall. I see that her skin is ravaged with large opened wounds on her chin and her forehead. I can see now that she is wearing her coat inside-out and as I follow her in the bus I smell the incredible stench of urine that surrounds her.
She goes to sit in front and the whole bus starts to stink. Two women, wearing the traditional Muslim head covers look at her and decide to sit in the back of the bus. I put a scarf in front of my face to filter the air. I am now all covered very much like the two women hidding their faces at the back of the bus.
After two stops someone comes to talk to the driver. I hear that he is asking the driver to kick the woman out. "There is nothing I can do" the driver said shaking her head. "But it stinks in the whole bus and we can't open the windows because it is so cold!" replies the passenger, clearly unnerved by the idea of sharing his space with the old woman. The driver keeps shaking her head. "There is nothing I can do. She is a paying customer."
The bus arrives at the corner of Columbia Road and 18th street. The old woman, oblivious to the stares, gets up and walk toward the front of the bus. I would have been a bit more charitable toward her if she had not scared the little girl that was getting ready to go out as well. "Walk faster" she almost shouted to the terrified child. Her mom quickly turns around and grabs the girl. The old lady gets out at last. The driver open the window to let some fresh air in. We all breath deeply. It is not that cold and the fresh air feels like a blessing.


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