I pass her as I make my way to the bus. She is blonde and thin and clutching a magazine. A hair clip dangles from the hem of her T-shirt, emblazoned with a Teddy bear (wearing a huge gold necklace) and the message: “How Bad Am I?” Her hair is all over the place, longish, teased high on her head, not unlike a 1980s rock band member.
Her skin is drawn and china white. You can see on her face that neither life nor the years have been kind to her. She’s probably younger than I, yet she looks at least a decade older.
She is drunk or stoned or a combination of the two. As I slide into my seat, she boards the bus. Slappy is driving this morning. (I have no idea what his name actually is; I call him that because he reminds me of Slappy White, both in appearance and demeanor.) Her appearance temporarily challenges even his perpetual cheeriness.
She takes a seat up front and as the bus begins its journey, her head begins a ritual bobbing, bouncing continually between sleep and a semi-conscious stupor. As the sun rises higher in the sky pouring its light into the bus, she jerks awake suddenly. For her sake, I wish she could just go on sleeping.
A young black girl boards, balancing a pudgy light-skinned baby on her hip as she drops her fare in the box. As each coin hits bottom *clink* the baby giggles, the volume rising with each falling piece of change. She slips into a seat up front, plunking the child onto her lap. He immediately begins to shake his head violently back and forth, laughing all the while.
The young mother is laughing, too. “You so silly,” she tells him as she tries to kiss the top of his spinning head. As her lips brush his hair, his legs begin to kick and he is squealing a high-pitched squeal, stopping his head to catch the kiss, now waving his arms up and down instead. It’s a treat to see such simple and pure joy.
At the back of the bus, a socio-political debate is brewing. Two young teens, both decked out in skater attire, maybe fresh from high school, are talking to two older black men about last night's Presidential address. One of the boys is acne-scarred. Freckles cover his face where the blemishes don’t. “Man, I can’t afford no insurance,” he tells one of the men.
“You can’t afford any insurance,” the older man corrects him. “That’s why you have got to get a job.”
After reaching downtown, the bus lurches to a stop at the train station. “Have a nice day, y’all,” Slappy calls to the departing passengers. The teenage boys both leap off the step from the backdoor, laughing as they go. The blonde stumbles to her feet, wavers, and then walks off, careening all the way. And the baby? He giggles non-stop, wildly kicking his legs as his mother throws him over her shoulder.