Friday, July 11, 2008

Overheard on the bus

It was after peak hours and, of the handful of folks on the Metro Transit bus, I was the only one close enough the hear the muted conversation between the driver and the woman on the curb.

"I'm trying to get home," she said.

"Where's home?" the driver asked. She named a Seattle neighborhood.

"I go there," the driver said. "C'mon." She didn't move.

"Tomorrow is payday," she said. "I don't have the fare." Both were silent for an instant; finally, the driver spoke.

"I can't tell you it's okay. If there's a supervisor on-board, I'll lose my job."

"I understand," she said. She started to turn away.

"Wait," the driver said. Very quiet now. "I'm not supposed to try to throw anyone off, if they get on without paying; but you've got to decide now."

"Thank you," she said. She climbed the entry steps.

"Fare?" the drive said, when she passed. Reading the required script.

The woman didn't slow, just shuffled to a seat. She was thirty-five, maybe forty, and a little worn around the edges; there was no ring on her left hand and the weight of it all seemed to ride on her shoulders. She was crying, when she settled into the seat across the aisle, clutching her tote.

I had no paper money. Our budget being what it is, I was riding on a bus pass myself, but I rummaged through my purse and managed to shake loose enough change to cover the fare. I showed her the coins in my hand, as I stood and made my way forward.

"It's for her," I said, as I dropped the money into the fare box.

"Thank you," the driver said. Whispering. The woman didn't say anything when I returned to my seat. She didn't have to; everything I needed to hear was welled up in her eyes.

Maybe you've already figured that I hadn't told the driver the whole truth; it wasn't just for her, although God knows she needed the little bit of relief I was able to offer. I did it for the driver, too, for the bit of kindness, the chance taken, and I did it for myself, so that I could look in the mirror when I got home.