Sunday, March 08, 2015

BUS STORY # 435 (Portrait # 27: Strange Bird)

A rare U.S. sighting of the Rufous-necked Wood-rail. Photo by Jeffrey Gordon, AP.

I’m so taken with her appearance that I don’t realize until later her boarding is a stage entrance. She takes care of the fare, then sits with a swirl of skirt on the bench seat opposite the driver, all the while talking on her cell phone.

The skirt is long, but open in front, the sides like curtains showcasing legs coming out of blue denim shorts and disappearing into cowboy boots. The boots are gorgeous, intricate patterns in a gray and brown exotic-looking leather. It’s probably not what she intended, but the skirt and boots steal the show.

She’s got the swirl down pat; no need to rearrange how it falls once she’s seated. She crosses her legs, and now I understand it is all part of the swirl.

The skirt is part of a jumper. The bodice is a dense display of brightly colored small dots, mostly blue and yellow. The dots give way to a larger pattern of irregularly-sided rectangles on a tie-dyed background of soft pink and pale yellow. The tie-dye fades into a linen-looking tan.

She moves her glasses -- black frames with gold accents, round, large, smokey lenses -- to the top of her head. Her hair is short and black, and gives the overall impression of slightly ruffled feathers. Black eyeliner, makeup that makes her freckled cheeks shiny. Large elongated hoop earrings, enamel inlays that flash green-gold with each emphatic shake of her head when she speaks to the phone.

She has rings on every finger except for her left pinky -- two on her left index finger. I try counting the bracelets on her left arm. Fourteen. No, sixteen. No --

“Thirty-nine and holding” comes to mind.

She has a small tattoo just above the webbing between her left thumb and index finger. It looks like it might be a turtle, the shell a square spiral pattern. She has another small tattoo behind her left ear, but I am too far away to make it out. Both are in the standard black ink, no ladylike color accents.

I cannot take my eyes off her.

I find myself thinking about the Rufous-necked Wood-rail, not exactly a pretty bird, but very colorful, and rare in these parts. Back in 2013, a hurricane blew it into the state for a couple of weeks. Folks flocked here from all over, couldn’t keep their eyes off the thing.

I’m not sure what kind of hurricane blew this woman onto the bus, but when I get to my stop, her voice rises. “I can’t believe you are _______ saying this to me.” I turn back and look, and she is wiping her eyes with her free hand.

Twenty minutes later, I’m done with my errand and waiting for the bus. When the door opens, I see it’s the same driver. Makes sense; I’m fairly close to the far end of this route. I board, and to my surprise, she’s still on the bus, still sitting in the same place, now off the phone. Her eyes don’t look smeary.

I sit pretty much in the same seat I was in before -- across the aisle and two rows back.

Sitting directly across from her, in a bench seat facing hers, is a guy in a black T-shirt and jeans. Looks somewhere in his 40s, with a mermaid tattoo on his right forearm. The tail extends to his upper arm, and it flexes when he bends his arm. He looks like a delinquent gone straight for a couple of decades now.

He’s looking at her like he doesn’t know what to make of her. He can’t keep his eyes off her either, although he tries. He looks at the front doors, than back over the rest of the bus, but his eyes always end up coming back around to the woman across the aisle and staying there.

She gets up and walks over to the driver. I can’t hear what she says, but I hear him reply, “Two more stops.” She remains standing, and at the second stop, she gets off the bus.

The guy sitting across from her watches her go out the door, then turns to look at me. I give him a kind of smile-shrug, as if to say, “Yeah, strange bird.” But he doesn’t smile back. He looks like he’s embarrassed to have been caught looking at her. He gets off several stops later and doesn’t look back.

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