Over the summer, I rode the bus to and from my internship each day, the 76x. It took me from the Olde Town neighborhood near my house to the downtown station near my office. On one particular morning, I was sitting on the right side of the bus – the side I always sit on because in my type-A brain you can only ever sit on the right side of the bus because it’s only, well, right – when some whispering attracted my attention.
“Did you see it?” “No, did you?” “Well, I heard…”
All the bus regulars were whispering to one another about an accident that had taken place in view of the Olde Town bus stop that very morning.
Riding the express bus downtown is a lot like riding the bus in college: there is still the cool group, made up of select individuals, and the not cool group, made up of everybody else. In college, the cool group got on the bus at Ram’s Pointe Apartments, the fourth stop from the top of the route. In the winter, most of them were wearing North Face jackets, knit Abercrombie hats, and were usually laughing hysterically about whatever it was that was so hysterical about the Ram’s Pointe bus stop. Even though I, too, wore a black North Face jacket and a knit hat, I got on at Saddle Ridge, first stop, top of the route, and like showing up too early to a party, being the first one on the bus made a difference in the public transportation hierarchy.
On the express bus, the cool group wasn’t so much cool as they were just the regular people who always rode the same bus – never late, never traveling, never taking unnecessary days off work, these in-group people saw each other every single day. Strands of chit-chat about the weather, their desk jobs, their weekend plans criscrossed the bus each morning, uniting the bus people in a little web of friendship.
There was the 60ish lady who wore red lipstick, white framed sunglasses and teased bouffant hair every day, as though the 1940s were still alive and swingin’ at her house every morning. There was a 50ish man who looked like he might be nice if he didn’t also look boring, but he wore a wedding band which restored my faith in the world that even two boring people (clearly his wife would also be boring) could find love. And another woman, age unguessable to me, who got on the bus in the afternoons, sat in the same seat, and read the bible. She unzipped the purple case eagerly each day, as if the words would be as fresh as that day’s newspaper. She always licked her lips, adjusted her glasses, and read hungrily, eager to find out what would happen next.
I was not 60 or 50 or anything ish – I was 22. I did not have a real desk job, and unlike these people, I was special. They didn’t know it, but I was young and by virtue of this, my life was bound to be more exciting than the life of those on the express bus. Unlike the college bus, I had no desire to be a part of this cool bus group, except as a silent observer. A little fly in Anne Klein heels and haughty sunglasses who had managed to sneak onto the 76x and listen to every word, silently judging and thinking about how she was different.
On this particular day, though, being both type-A and extremely nosy, I very much wanted to be closer to the bus people.
“It flipped up in the air, end over end,” said a fat woman, making a rolling motion with her hands like some sinister sort of carousel. “And then it landed on its wheels again, right side up.” She was the kind of fat where her hands, when not gesturing about someone else’s impending doom, automatically rested upon her stomach, like two fluttering moths at rest.
All the bus people who were in hearing distance of this gruesome detail shuddered together and shook their heads, looking at each other as if to say, isn’t that awful? Their collective shock was just one more strand in the web, drawing the bus people closer together, giving them one more item to discuss during the morning commute.
“Who was it, again?” said a man in a blue plaid shirt. He was sitting behind the chubby, gesticulating woman and didn’t want to be left out of the story.
“It was that blonde who rides this bus in the mornings, you know, the heavyset one,” said the heavyset woman. “I talked to her just yesterday morning,” she said, with absolute certainty in her voice. It was the kind of certainty God seemed to grant to those who were both witnesses to accidents and who knew the victims personally. It was clear now that she was to be the authority on this accident, having met both requirements.
“What was her name?” asked a curly-haired woman, bolder now that the whole bus was getting in on the act.
“I’m not sure,” said our fearless leader, without any reluctance at all. “But I talked to her just yesterday morning. Hoo boy, It was a bad wreck, too,” she said, working her way up to a narrative fervor.
“The other car that hit her, he didn’t even stop. Just crashed right into her and raced right off. Right off!” After testing them out, I could tell she liked the feeling such strong words could bring, the attention they were drawing as her story crashed and raced around the bus, getting louder all the time.
People began to peer over the tops of their newspapers. The bible woman licked her lips, adjusted her glasses, and put a finger down in the middle of Exodus to mark her exact place in the sentence. The narrator began to notice she was drawing attention and again, repeated the part about the flipping.
“End over end,” she said, spinning her hands slower this time as the bus people nodded gravely.
A contemplative lull fell over the bus. This would have been the moment when most people would have stopped talking. It seemed bad enough to be talking about a fellow bus person behind her back, but to be adding hand movements to better illustrate her pain seemed to be wrong, against a bus code of honor, if one existed.
“Of course, since I saw the whole thing, I called 911 right away,” the fat woman said, starting up again. “I turned to Rob and said, ‘Rob, do you have a cell phone? Because we need to call 911.’ And we did. I did.”
This piece of information seemed wash over the aisles, relieving the bus people greatly. Not only could their fat friend tell a terrible tale, but she was also the heroine, a torch bringing light to the darkness that was clouding our bus ride.
“I surely thought she was hurt,” said the narrator. “Bad. Real bad.” The bus people were in suspense, waiting to know just how bad hurt the heavyset victim was.
“Turns out she wasn’t bleeding or anything, just shaking real hard,” said the woman, almost sadly. She too shook real hard, for the benefit of her audience. “The ambulance was on its way, of course, but she wasn’t even bleeding and there was nothing I could do…” she said, trailing off.
The bus people banded together at this. “Of course, there was nothing you could do!” “Well, there’s nothing she could do.” “Nobody could have done…”
The bus was abuzz with defenses, as mass absolution took place like a prayer, rising up to God from the 76x. There was, of course, nothing they could have done. After all, she wasn’t even bleeding.
As our bus pulled up to the Olde Town stop, scene of the crime, the whole bus shifted left as the bus people began looking for skid marks and broken glass.
As we pulled in to the parking lot, the bus people scattered. They were on their way home, maybe anxious to tell their families, their cats or their extremely boring spouses about the excitement on the 76x. Perhaps they’d even brag, exaggerate a little about how they had also witnessed the accident. With such a detailed account, it was practically like they had seen it themselves, what was the harm?
Only as I turned to leave did I notice a shoe, lying in the gutter amidst the remainder of the glass. A smallish white pump, scuffed around the toes that had been swept aside when the street was cleared of accident debris. I imagined the blonde, heavyset woman, emerging shaking from her car, brushing the glass from her hair. Today, she thought. Today, I am different, the center of attention – but not in a good way, she would think sadly. Of course, the accident was already over. There was nothing she could do.