I am one of the very,very few people who still don’t drive here in the U.S. Many are quite aware of my “situation”. I have this acquaintance who had the nerve to ask me several times if I was still riding the bus, and not driving. The last time she asked, my reply was a curt “yes”, though I actually wanted to snap at her to say that it should not really be her concern. Perhaps she could not understand how I manage to do it, and that driving a car here is a very important thing.
Of course, I have my reasons. Number one, I have not mustered enough courage to drive. Secondly, for so many years, I have been used to riding buses and trains in Manila where you can always get a ride in very corner. Third of all, I do not really mind taking the public transportation, because it spells out many other interesting things.
From college to day one of my employment in my homeland, I have been used to taking the bus. My kind father, who was quite protective of me when I was younger, would often give me rides. But he had a different style, because he was the kind who would take his sweet time in preparing to go to work. The wait for him would always seem forever. Because I was the type who wanted to be prompt, I knew that doing my own commute via the public ride would always work best for me.
I was quite sheltered until my High School days. So when I started this trips alone in college, at first it was quite scary. But after two weeks, I realized that it was just a piece of cake. In fact, after months of doing it, it had become part and parcel of my daily ritual. I could doze off as soon as I hop on, and like someone coming out of a trance once my stop is a few meters away, I would quickly get back to my ready mode.
Strangely, aboard the bus, life stories unfold before your eyes.You become a silent witness to the different lives of passengers. I had come across old couples who argue and throw harsh words at each other. They sit side by side, yet look at opposite directions. They do not hold hands, perhaps as they used to, decades ago. Nor do they throw sweet glances at each other. But through the lines on their faces and their bent backs, their “togetherness” could define a relationship this has endured time and many storms.
In my country, pregnant women usually get some special treatment. Other passengers, men usually, give up their seats for them. Yup, chivalry is still alive! But if you see a man who would refuse to budge even if a pregnant lady, or an elderly has no seat, you could not help but feel that he also deserves that seat (which he got at first anyway). He could be dead tired from work. But then, the pregnant lady or the old person would most likely not share this sentiment. For them, he is just plain mean and insensitive. And even pretending to sleep.
I had my share of bad times during some of those rides. Rush hour in Manila is hellish, believe me. Getting a seat is a contact sport. That would mean being on your feet until you reach your stop, if you are not quick enough. Still, despite my aching legs throughout a long trip, I still got the chance to look at the passengers and create my own story line for them. Does the guy seated at the back really know the lady who seats next to him? Is he just trying to get her number? Old trick, I would say. In one corner is a lady just slumped in her seat, looking out the window. Is she thinking of her baby surely waiting for her at home? Could she be a single mother?
While deep in my thoughts, in many instances, I would be startled by a loud voice. People would rouse from their sleep and sit up straight, crane their necks to check what was going on. “Brothers and sisters, we are here to share the Lord’s word…” Some go back to their sleep, others listen, others pretend to listen, others go back to their business.
The speaker does have a loud voice, not too bad for a public speaker, at a moving venue at that! The driver gets annoyed but turns off the radio. The religious man quotes the bible, closes his eyes and invites everyone for a prayer. While he does all of these, a “colleague” moves around the bus, passes envelopes for donation. One burly guy claims that he is being disturbed from his sleep (He could really be tired from work, the Lord forgives). A lady gives a few clinking coins (That is all she could afford, the Lord is accepting). A youngster gives back an empty envelope (He doesn’t have a job, the Lord understands). “God bless you brother….sister…”
I still remember the lady who gets embarrassed because her baby wouldn’t stop crying. You try to give her an assuring look that it’s not her fault, but others try to make her feel guilty that the baby is just way too loud. There’s a lady who fights with the conductor because she feels that he is intentionally not giving her her change. Or the guy who was really successful in moving from one seat to another just to escape paying his fare!
I do miss these scenes because my bus rides here in San Jose are not as long and way too different. I do not get to “observe” lengthily, or even make up crazy stories in my mind about the passengers’ lives.
But this afternoon, my bus ride wasn’t so disappointing. Seated near the driver was a guy in a wheel chair. Obviously he was a person with special needs. The girl he was quietly chatting with was also a “special person”. They were just tinkering on something, but I couldn’t ignore the way they guy admiringly looked at the young lady, seemingly wanting to hold her hand even. She would smile at him, he would naughtily winked at her. This is one story that my creative mind does not need to concoct. A simple yet loving closeness that I did not need to imagine about. Yes, there is hope for my trips again! Back to my “entry” into people’s interesting lives.
I suddenly remembered that acquaintance who kept asking me if I was still taking the bus. Yup, I still am. And she just doesn’t know what she’s missing.