I ride the bus everyday. During the week, I wait at bus stops near Sts Peter & Paul Catholic Church, a church that feeds people at 5pm from Monday through Friday. And I have some stories. Names edited for confidentiality.
The first time I noticed Frank, he was carrying a chair. Over his shoulder, a wooden chair with teal vinyl cushions, a cane in his other hand. It was impossible not to notice him. Who carries a damn chair out and about on the sidewalk? Where did he get that chair? Did he carry it every day?
“Hey beautiful, I brought this chair for you.”
Like hell you did. You don’t even know me.
“Want to sit down?”
“No thanks,” I smile big. It’s my policy to smile big when I turn someone down, especially if they are nice about asking. No matter how gross or weird I feel about the request, I smile big. It reduces the likelihood of violence. It disarms people. It’s expected.
Except when they are rude. If they are rude, I wear a flat affect. That comes from the time I worked in a state psychiatric facility. Flat affect means there is nothing to react to. Resting social worker face.
“Okay then,” he replies. And sits.
The next day, he is sitting in his comfy chair again. “Do you want to sit down?” he asks.
“No thanks,” I smile big.
“Okay then.” Time passes. My bus is taking a while. He ambles over to me, an earnest expression, his ruddy face gets in my space. I bristle but stand firm. “What’s your name?”
“My name’s Frank.”
“Nice to meet you.”
He sits back down.
“Karen, let me show you something.” He reaches into his duffel bag, pulls out an envelope full of pictures.
“This might be weird to show you… but I want you to see something.”
He pulls a photo of him and a young woman. The young woman has his face, but with blonde ringlets. She looks chipper. He looks chipper. When was this?
“Now look at this picture.”
He pulls out another photo. The young woman is mirrored.
“Are they twins?”
“Yes, they are. They’re my daughters. Can you believe it?”
“Yeah, they have your face.”
“When I see you at the bus stop, I think of them.”
The day after, there he is again. He’s on the bus bench, a black bench with hostile anti-sleeping dividers. His comfy chair is behind the fence, broken, collapsed by the dumpster.
“What happened to your chair, Frank?!”
“Someone vandalized it. They broke it,” his buddy answers for him. Frank looks serious, crestfallen.
“It happened this morning. Isn’t that terrible?” Frank inquires.
“Yeah, that’s awful. I’m sorry.”
“Ah it’s alright. Hey, you want to sit down?” asks Frank.
“No thanks,” I smile big.
“She’s always going to say no,” says Frank’s buddy.
“And I’m going to keep asking,” Frank answers.
“And she’ll keep saying no!” exclaims Buddy.
“…or maybe one day she’ll say yes,” adds Frank’s other buddy.
“And maybe another day she’ll say no,” responds Buddy.
“But it’s up to her isn’t it?” Frank looks at me.
Buddy 1 and Buddy 2 look at me, too, expectantly.
“Yes it is,” I answer.
The bus arrives, beeping its way down. I take out my bus pass and walk into the bus, ushered by a chorus of goodbyes.
“It’s always nice to see you Karen!”
“See you later Karen!”