Sunday, April 10, 2016

BUS STORY 492 (Time Was...)

The simple joys of life can be done alone,” by Steve Baker

I’m meeting someone for lunch. The trip requires one transfer, and I’ve just taken a seat on the bench to wait for it. At the other end of the bench is a little old lady. I nod hello.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you happen to have a cigarette?”

She’s toothless, but she puts a lot of effort into making sure she articulates as clearly as possible.

“No, ma’am, I don’t. Sorry.”

“You’re one of them that don’t smoke.”

She says it more as an observation than an accusation.

“Yes, ma’am,” I confirm.

We sit there quietly for a while.

Then she calls out, “Sister! Sister!”

I look over at her. She’s looking at a car directly in front of us, in the middle lane. Black car, nice car, driven by a young black woman.


She starts waving her right arm.

“Sister! Sister!”

The woman doesn’t look over. I don’t think she can hear -- the windows are up and she probably has the radio on and surely the air conditioner. The light turns green, and off she goes, along with all the other cars and trucks.

“Did you know her?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “She’s black is what it is. I’m just tryin’ to get me a ride.”

While I am still turning that one over in my mind, she tells me she hasn’t had a car in 14 years. She hasn’t had a job in 17 years. She took a leave of absence from her job here in Albuquerque to go to Chicago. She said they told her they’d keep her job for her until she got back. But they didn’t.

“Time was, people looked out for one another, took care of one another.”

I ask her who she worked for. She names a local family business I not only remember but had regularly patronized many years ago. I describe the owner to her.

“Yes, sir,” she says. “That was my father.”

I am genuinely surprised and I tell her so. She quickly explains this wasn’t her father’s doing. When he died, the kids took over the business. Everything changed, she said. It was her siblings who told her she didn’t have a job anymore.

“Time was, you put family ahead of money.”

She said they ended up falling out with one other, all over money, and that’s why the business floundered.

I tell her I’ve seen another place outside the state with the same name, in the same business, and now long abandoned. “Yes, sir,” she says, and she tells me the state and the town. That is when I think she might really be who she says she is.

She continues that the out-of-town place was her aunt and uncle’s business, and that part of why they closed down was because of how the family was managing the business here.

I’m so absorbed by the story I don’t see my bus until it pulls past me toward the intersection.

I jump up, and watch it stop for a red light.

“That’s my bus,” I explain to the woman, then walk quickly to the corner. I stand right by the front door and hold up my bus pass. I know the driver can rightfully decline to let me on since I’m not at the stop. He looks over, opens the door.

I thank him and explain I was deep in a conversation and didn’t realize he’d pulled up at the stop. He laughs and tells me he could see that.

I take a seat, but the wonder of what I’ve just heard is mixed with regret at such an abrupt leave-taking. And sadness, too, for all that I’ve heard, and for her.


The photo at the top of this story is titled “The simple joys of life can be done alone” and is posted with the permission of Steve Baker. You can see all Steve Baker’s photos on Flickr here.


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