(Creative non-fiction circa 2007) 

The bus is early today.

The alarm went off at 8 am. Then again at 8:05, and again and again until I can’t hit snooze anymore and roll out of bed. But before I get out of bed, I do my daily mental negotiation with myself.

Can I get away with skipping class today?

How many classes have I missed already?

Is there anything due?

But I can’t skip, I know this for a fact. 

It’s the day I miss class that the teachers give the most information, tidbits I can use to pass the test or what they’re really looking for in our essays. So instead I drag myself out of bed, dragging my feet on the way to the bathroom very much like a zombie complete with the breath. 

And I don’t wake up until I feel the cold water pelting me in the face.

And I’m awake, not that there’s much of a difference.

I’m always running late.

I’m leaving class now on my way to work. It’s the same bus, the same one that loops between my apartment, downtown, my school, and my job, like a cruel figure 8 with no end in sight. 

I run outside to catch the bus. I can see it coming around the corner from the windows, and run out the door clumsily to catch it. My shoes are untied. I leave the door unlocked and barely grab my bag on my way out. I almost miss it by seconds.

The driver gives me a smug smile as I get on.

See, I waited for you, he says.

I barely glance at him. He smells like rum on the best days, and drives like a snail, so that though he was early today, I know I’ll be late for work.

He starts driving before I find a seat, and I stumble.  

Today the bus is full of people and my favorite seat is taken. Instead I sit somewhere near the middle, next to a lady who is quietly snoring with her face pressed against the window. Her day is over, I’m just taking a break in-between. 

A few stops away, past the cemetery, the Peruvian lady gets on as usual. She’s a small, tiny thing, with long blonde hair and perfect teeth. She always sits up front, and like clockwork the bus driver purposely catches a red light to turn and talk to her. He compliments her tight jeans, her open toed sandals and pretty toes. 

What he fails to compliment is the ring on the third finger of her left hand. 

That he always misses.

They talk about nothing, about the weather. TV. Their favorite old salsas.

He knows I don’t like him; I’ve complained about him to the bus company so many times the dispatcher knows me by name. 

What is your complaint ma’am?

The bus driver got to the mall ten minutes late again.

Nina, is that you again?

I tie my shoes as he drives, careful not to bother the lady next to me. She’s formed a nice trace of drool that’s slowly running down the window. I wish I could sleep that soundly.

***

The bus is nearly empty today.

 When I get on my favorite seat is empty, third down on the left, so I’m close enough to the door without being hit with a blast of hot air every time someone else gets on. 

It’s my favorite driver today. 

He nods at me and says something as I get on, but my headphones are so loud I don’t hear him. I’m sure it’s along the lines of a greeting, but I’m really not sure. We play this game all the time, him saying something to me, while I go “Eh?” and fumble for the pause button. But I like this guy. He knows to get me to the mall five minutes early so I can get to work on time, and holds the bus when I’m running late. 

He has a grandfather quality about him. Almost like Santa, with completely white hair and a round belly. He once dropped me off at home when he was off duty, on a late Saturday night after I had gotten off of work. I had forgotten my coat. I had forgotten my umbrella, and it was both raining and freezing out. He scolded me the entire time, told me I’d catch my death.

You kids today, he said, aren’t very careful.
.
The man in front of me offers me a strawberry. He produced it from a container in his deep pockets, holding it in front of me with dirt stained hands.

They’re from my garden, he says, and I accept it.

He has blackened teeth, like a mouthful of black corn kernels, and though I try not to stare, I can’t help but notice that some of those black spots are gaps. He’s thin and gaunt, with long stringy hair that’s thinning on the top. I can see the spots on his scalp, and I can count six before they disappear at the back of his head. 

For a second he reminds me of a scarecrow that’s been out on the sun too long. His skin is leathery, and he’s so small and frail I wonder just how old he really is.

The strawberry is small and dusty. When I put it in my mouth it tastes sour and soft, like it was a few hours away from being compost.

To him it’s the best strawberry I’ve ever had.

Thank you very much, I say. 

That was very sweet of you. And I realize he has that shake, that look. 

That look that says that he’s dying to talk to someone, and I wait.

I don’t know why. I usually ignore them. Maybe he was lonely. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But instead of putting on my headphones right away, I wait.

I grow them for my wife. He says, with another half-smile. She’s in the hospital.

I nod. I’m so sorry to hear that.

She has Multiple Sclerosis, he says. His voice breaks. She’s been living with it for eight years.
This time I don’t know what to say.

I look out the window. Today is one of those many hot summer days we’ve had lately, so hot you can’t feel the breeze blowing off a fan even if you stood in front of it.

He keeps talking to me. Shows me pictures of his wife and tells me how she loved to dance.
And I listen the entire way. When my stop comes I can only say that I’m sorry softly before I walk away.

I’m early to  class today.
***
I’m early for the bus today.

I wonder what stories I’ll hear along the way.