Some people might think she’s a little scary, the eccentric woman who rides the bus, always carrying a backpack and a few bags like a rag-picker.
Whenever I see her, I hear the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby song playing in the back of my head. Ah, look at all the lonely people…
And I wonder, what’s her story? Sometimes she mutters to herself, sometimes angrily.
“Sometimes her meds work,” a man on the bus said one day when the bus stopped to pick her up, “sometimes they don’t.” He had seen it before, and had a premonition about what was going to happen. Instead of boarding the bus, she gestured “go on, leave me alone.” The bus driver closed the door and left her standing there, and she seemed strangely relieved. That’s when I thought of the Almond Joy / Mounds commercial where the nutty jocky is riding his horse backward. And I felt guilty for thinking the word nut when I was, in fact, thinking about a human.
So, out of a kind of quiet shame, the next time she boarded the bus, I smiled at her when she sat down in the seat across from me.
She noticed me and she stared at me hard. Her eyes were brown, her skin was brown from the sun, her face was lined with worry. Her hair was cut like Coco Channel’s–a swingy, chic lustrous brown bob without a lick of gray. Who cuts her hair, I wondered? She was attractive once, having the thin, chiseled features and penetrating eyes that people used to say made a woman handsome.
“You smiled at me,” she said.
I nodded like a dumb marionette. And because I’m the kind of person who smiles out of sheer nervousness, I smiled again, tentatively.
“No one ever smiles at me,” she said loudly. And her face became like a flower blossoming in time-lapse photography. She transformed into someone beautiful.
“Well,” I said, not even knowing what I ought to be saying, just saying something in order to say something. “People, just don’t smile enough anymore.”
“No,” she agreed. “It’s true. People don’t smile enough anymore” And she sat there, humming and looking out the window, and now and then she would glance my way and smile that winning smile again, giving me a nod of acknowledgement, as if we were two women sharing some delicious sisterly wisdom.