The Miracle on Route 16

She is weeping.

Uncomfortable, I drop my gaze, fiddle with the fastenings on my purse, and brush unnecessarily at a speck of lint on my coat, before sneaking a glance from beneath lowered lashes to confirm what I’ve already seen.

The Invisible Woman, I think of her. She’s ridden Bus 16 faithfully for months now, boarding  from the tumultuous Market Street stop.  Evenings past counting,  I’ve glanced out of the smeary bus window to see her distancing herself from the bustle and craziness of the Market shelter.  She wears an invisible force field, I think; a Romulan cloaking shield, standing there amid the commotion as though she is completely alone.

Perhaps she is.

Like most of us as we board, she scans the bus for the rare empty seat; frustrated at that, she tries to find a forward-facing seat. But—also like most of us riding this substandard bus always assigned to our low-ridership route—she is usually forced to clamber awkwardly up the mid-aisle steps and take a place in the uncomfortable sideways seats.  Consequently, I’ve sat facing her for many evenings now.

Her invisible armor does not dissipate once she is seated. Nondescript in a worn beige coat, she sits staring into a distance that is obviously inward.  She does not speak, nor smile—not even the casual “bus buddies” smile we regular riders toss so carelessly  to one another.  She sits, alone, quite alone and silent, in our midst on this crowded vehicle.

But tonight she is weeping. At first I think her eyes are merely watering; it is, after all, Indiana in allergy season.  But the initial brightness is not blinked away, and with slow momentum, the gathering tears skim down the curve each cheek.  She tries not to be noticed.  She does not sob. She blinks hard, and surreptiously lifts a hand to dash at the moisture sliding beneath her chin.  But it is hopeless.  The tears tumble faster and faster; her pale face crumples more and more.

And then the miracle happens.

The comfortably-upholstered, pleasant-faced black woman seated beside me looks—really looks—at the Invisible Woman.   Wordlessly, she rustles through her purse, and pulls out a tissue.  Leaning across the aisle, she hands it to the Invisible Woman, who stares at the blue paper Kleenex as if it’s something she’s never seen before.  Kindly Black Lady firmly pats the hand into which she’s tucked the tissue and says, “Whatever it is, it’s all right, baby.  This too, shall pass, you know.  I’m saying a prayer for you right now.   And, baby, when LaDonna prays, God listens.”

Lady LaDonna’s stop is coming up. She gathers up her handbag and stands.  But before she moves up the aisle, she nods forcefully at the Invisible Woman.  She is praying.  God is listening.

Invisible Woman dabs at her eyes. Tears continue to fall, but, for just one moment, her wary armor slips.  She smiles—tries to smile, faintly, tremulously—at Lady LaDonna’s retreating back.  Then her look slides inward again, to stare into nothingness.  But she clasps the crumpled tissue carefully in one hand, holding it across her heart like a shield.

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