Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Chinese on the Bus
He studied Chinese. I studied the faces around me. I love the bus. It is delightful and scary all at the same time. So much humanity contained in a narrow transporter of people. Where are they going? What do they do? How do they dream?
The other day a young man sat down next to me. He was nice looking in an offbeat sort of way. Like most riders, he didn’t make eye contact and tried to honor the space between us. A tantalizing aroma wafted my direction and I was temporarily overcome by the smell of his fresh latte and heard myself saying, “Wow, your coffee smells really good.” He smiled and pointed toward the stand by the roadside, mentioned they were pretty quick and that we had a red light. Just then the bus started to move. “Not quite quick enough,” I replied. And then he made a very tender gesture that took me by surprise. “Want a sip?” he asked. I chuckled and politely declined, moved by his offer nonetheless. He may have just been teasing, but I had the distinct feeling he would have honored his word had I responded “yes” to his offer.
We rode along and I noticed he had some handwritten vocabulary cards he was flipping through in a study-like fashion. “What language?” I inquired. “Chinese,” he responded. “Going on a trip?” “Nope. Just a hobby.” Our conversation continued for a few more moments. It was brief, but definitely brightened my day.
I always wonder about the people on the bus. They seem so solitary—plugged into their i-pods and hiding behind books, newspapers and blank expressions.
A woman sat across from me on the ride home. She was self-contained and quiet like the rest of the riders, but at one point in the trip someone got on the bus and caught her attention. She must have been fond of the person because her face lit up and transformed into a beautiful smile. It was like magic.
We desire community. Communion means ‘union with.’ Maybe that’s why people ride the bus and don’t even realize it. Maybe it’s not economic or ecological, but rather it is communal. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch to consider, but it’s definitely a world in which I’d like to believe. A place where smiles light up faces and strangers offer to share their coffee. Hmmm. I think I’ll keep riding for now. After all, it’s good for my wallet, the earth benefits in a small way and my soul gets surprised in unimaginable ways. Who knows… maybe I’ll even learn a word or two of Chinese next time?
photo by bill hughlett