Sunday, August 26, 2007

BUS STORY # 47 (Babushka)

At the inbound Rapid Ride station at Louisiana, I see an old woman board, put her money in the till, and head down the aisle. I’m in the back, and my first impression is “Babushka.” My next impression is a pair of big Doc Martens disappearing under the hem of a long dress. I lay my magazine down in my lap.

She comes all the way to the back, sits one seat ahead of me and across the aisle. She could be in her 80s. It’s a pleasantly cool morning for August, but it’s still August and she’s looking like late November. She’s wearing a black cap pulled down tight over her ears. It’s opaque, and looks like a cross between a watch cap and a hairnet. The sides pooch out, and I’m imagining miniature Princess Leia hair buns.

She mops her face with a black muffler with little fuzzy pom-poms. No wonder: under the muffler is a black jacket, worn like a cape, with the sleeves coming over her shoulders and knotted in front. The jacket is over a brown, long-sleeved pullover. The pullover is over something whose frilly border can be seen ringing the bottom of the shirt. It is a wonderful, slightly gauzy pattern of small, softly irregular rectangles of black and gray and white.

Besides her layers, she has a brown leather messenger bag strapped across her left shoulder, a purse strapped crosswise and hanging by her left side, and a dark blue fabric fanny pack hanging from a strap around her neck and nestled in her lap under a substantial bosom. She has a pocketbook in her hands which she’d pulled from the purse after sitting down and getting herself arranged and mopping her face with her muffler. She’s methodically going through the pocketbook, I assume to confirm that everything is where it should be and to remind herself where everything is.

Her skirt is gray, with delicate pink flowers. I think “Little House On The Prairie.” And, up close, her Doc Martens turn out to be thick black socks and black shoes. Very thick black socks. I’m thinking there are more socks underneath – or maybe she’s wearing soccer shin guards.

Around her left wrist are tied two kerchief-sized cloths, one dull blue, one hot pink. I quickly dismiss the thought “street person.” Her clothes and hands are clean, her eyes sensible, and she exhibits none of the telltale tics and fidgets.

My eyes wander from wrist ties to the cap to the frilly, lovely pattern poking out from beneath her pullover to the side of her face . . . and, as if she sensed I was watching, she stops suddenly and turns and looks at me looking at her. She quickly looks away. I’m dealing with two reactions: the fear I’ve made her feel uncomfortable or frightened, and the shock of the impression that her eyes are the eyes of my decades-gone-now grandmother.

There is something about taking the bus that allows one’s thoughts to go places they don’t normally go. Part of it is what you see there, of course, and the other part is you really aren’t doing anything else. So besides wishing I could know her story and realizing there is no way to strike up a conversation without making it painfully obvious I am curious because she is a curiosity, I also indulge the development of a fantasy that my grandmother has made a return visit to this world and for some reason doesn’t want anyone in the family to know about it, and what could this possibly mean.

She stays put when I get off near downtown.

Later that day, I tell a co-worker about her. “From your description, I’d say she has somewhat of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The way she was carefully going through her pocketbook, how she was dressed like she was prepared for anything --”

“She was prepared for anything!” I interrupt with a laugh.

“And the – what’s the word I want?” She pauses. “‘Flamboyance.’ I mean, think of those wrist scarves. I’ll bet she was a very creative person when she was young. Maybe a writer, or maybe someone who moved in artistic circles.” My co-worker isn’t in the bus, but her mind is on a journey now. She tells me the life story of the old woman on the bus.

I didn’t tell her the part about my grandmother. I figured from the reaction of the Babushka reincarnation on the bus, she didn’t want anybody to know she was back. I could at least do that for her.


Blogger JM said...

I remember reading this one when you first wrote it, but it was nice to read again. It has more resonance for me now.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thank you. That makes me feel good.

7:47 PM  

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