The door opens to reveal a black flat surface which can unfold into a ramp. It stays flat and unfolded. I lift myself carefully into the bus. I slide my pass, with the magnetic stripe facing away from me and the cactus facing me, through the slot in machine that separates me from the driver. I wait to hear the machine confirm my validness. I do this while showing my ID card that proves I’m poor enough to warrant the discounted pass that I have just used. I take a deep breath. That was a mistake.
I am assaulted by an acrid, vinegary scent. As I walk towards the back of the bus hoping to escape the smell, I notice there are no children aboard. An adult is responsible for the odor. I find a forward facing seat in the very back where a vent caresses my hair as I try valiantly not to inhale too deeply. I cover my nose with my shirt hoping the cotton will act as a filter. I begin to wonder exactly from where the smell is coming. I scan the suspects.
There are about 20 people on board. I can only see the top halves of most of the other riders. I notice several others are covering their faces, obviously trying to escape the smell. I eliminate from my suspect pool those trying to escape the smell and those who got on the bus after me. This leaves me with 3 people as possible odor causers.
Is it the young olive skinned woman with the dreadlocks and multiple piercings on her face? Is it the young man with the pale complexion and magic marker black hair? Or is it the middle aged woman with the wind combed short brown locks and the mask of makeup on her face?
I scrutinize my suspects. The dreadlocked woman is sitting across the aisle from me. Her clothes scream hippie wannabe, a long hemp skirt paired with a tied dyed long sleeved t-shirt. The shirt hangs off of her loosely and she looks as if a swift wind could carry her away. Her probably size 8 feet protrude from a pair of size 7 ½ worn out leather sandals. Her toenails have recently been manicured and they sport a red hue that reminds me of the heart shaped boxes that overfill the stores around Valentine’s Day. I doubt her responsibility for the foul odor.
The young man with the obviously dyed hair sits in a seat that faces the aisle. An unoccupied seat separates us. He looks like he raided Johnny Cash’s closet. The only thing missing is a cowboy hat on top of his square shaped head. I notice a smudge of white by his chin. I study his face carefully. Little clumpy white smudges make themselves known. I recognize these little clumps from my “Rocky Horror” days. He is using clown white to make his complexion look lighter.
My third suspect is sitting a few rows up. She is facing the aisle although she is sitting in a forward facing seat. She has a five o’clock shadow just visible under a thick layer of foundation and a scarf tied around her neck. I wonder if she is pre-op. or post-op. She has pulled out a comb and is trying to get her brown hair back in place.
I look out the window; I am a block from my stop. I pull the cord to signal the driver. As the bus slows to a stop, I rise and head for the door. I peek at the brown haired woman and notice a slight bulge in her blue jeans. She’s pre-op. I push the yellow stripes on the back door, it opens and I am freed from the scent without knowing who was responsible.
The doors open to reveal three black steps with yellowish orange stripes on them. These steps can turn into a lift for those who need it. I climb the stairs and pay my fare. My old friend Richard is driving. I sit in the front seat that faces the aisle so I can talk to him. It has been ages since I have seen him last. Richard looks back at me for a moment and then points to the bus’s windshield.
“Very big window.” I laugh at our old, private joke. I met Richard more than a decade ago when I was working at the telephone survey place and he drove the number 9 that I took downtown after work. Richard was one of the fun drivers. He was always cheerful even when dealing with drunks and unhappy people.
Once, when a young man wearing headphones got on the bus, Richard pretended to say full sentences but only said about half the words and mouthed the others. When the young man took off the headphones, Richard continued to say only about half the words of his sentences. Richard did this until I started laughing. Then Richard and I had our first conversation. It was the beginning of our friendship.
I stopped working at the survey place, Richard’s route got changed. I still bump into him from time to time and we catch each other up on our lives. I don’t remember the origin of the “big window” joke and neither does he, but we still laugh at it every time.
I am sitting toward the front of the number 10 bus and we are heading north. We are on Stone Avenue and we are turning onto Speedway Boulevard. We stop in front of Pima Community College and a few people board. One of these people, a woman in her 40’s, sits two seats away from me and tries to start a conversation with me.
I stare out the window watching the drab buildings going by and try not to pay this woman any attention. She seems upset about something and I don’t want her to take it out on me. She keeps saying how she can believe it. She says she got ripped off. Someone in the park ripped her off. I think she must have come from Stoner Park (a little park at Stone and Speedway, I know that is not its real name, but I never learned its real name and this one is very appropriate) and I am not surprised someone ripped her off if she was in that park.
“I can’t fucking believe it! He fucking took my money! He ripped me off! He took my money for a rock and never came back!”
I moved to the back of the bus.
My contractions are pretty close together. I am not sure how close together because I forget what time it was the last one started each time a new one starts. It was not my due date according to my doctor, but it was the date that I figured out using the exact date of conception and adding nine months. It is raining and the bus is late.
It may seem crazy to be having contractions and to be taking a bus. I was in no rush to get to the hospital. My first daughter was born after 20 hours of labor and a caesarian section. My second was born after 3 days of labor and another caesarian. My third daughter was a full 5 days of labor, no caesarian but she did require a vacuum. My girls were not in any rush to leave my womb.
The bus arrives, it’s been about 30 minutes since my contractions started, I think. I trudge up the steps and pay my fare. I joke with the driver about the rain. I say it is great weather for a duck. I try not to show the pain as my contractions increase in intensity. I stop noticing anything or anyone else on the bus. The buildings outside are a blur. I spend the twenty minute ride convincing myself that the doctors will send me home again, that today won’t be the day she is born.
“Craycroft,” the prerecorded voice announces on the bus’s sound system. I get up and exit the bus. I go slowly and the woman behind me tells me to hurry up. I cross the street and enter the labor and delivery department. Ten minutes later, I am holding my daughter.