Pink was her color. Once a beauty, the bruises in her face where parties unknown had recently ‘clocked’ her in the left yes and in the side of her mouth. Showing in the most demented way that she had been well-attended to. Though not of course with any measure of demonstrable affection. It was a cold brittle blustery day on the street corner. Winter had once again played its tricks with a few intervening days of mold weather followed by an arctic cold snap. Normally those demeaned to waiting on corners for a bus had to contend with being too over-dressed or alternately under prepared for the lottery known as the veracity of the day’s forecast. In her case, an insubstantial cast-off thick gray cotton pullover accompanied by a pink plaid woolen scarf set ‘Madonna & child’ style over her unruly shock of salt and peppered hair. Not much else to protect her beyond some pink deck shoes and a pair of faded worn out jeans frayed at the ankles stood sentinel to the blasts of cold. Her only source of external heat the butt of a almost wasted cigarette that barely glowed enough to confirm it was still lit. The unlikely conversation of two equally beset fellow travelers carried on despite the vagrant’s presence. Both making sure that the conversational engagement they shared would deter any overt pleas for assistance, monetary or otherwise. The grim-faced beggar walked by and assumed a place at a respectful enough distance so that the conversation resumed a more relaxed pace. Life was miserable enough without inviting more derision for her own miserable state of life! The boulevard though occasionally choked with traffic showed immediate signs of the sight of a municipal bus that might offer respite from the ceaseless frosty bite of the wind.
The well-bundled man was fully insulated in his down coat, watch cap and dark sunglasses. His conversation mate much shorter, thick head of hair ‘sans chapeau’. As they chattered on the vagrant noted that the attitude of the direction of his head was not caught up in some constant surveillance of her through an intermediate angle. He seemed superficially aloof? But in some same way while he did not seems to take any overt notice of this miserable woman’s life condition. Something suggested that he was not unsympathetic either. Certainly not judgmental as so many others in other situations as she had long accustomed to endure. At different points in the casual conversation when consensus demanded looking over to her in a manner that casually invited her opinion as simply another waylaid fellow traveler. Her bruised features not seemingly noticed as if they for the moment had become invisible. And the need to instantly go through the motions of a false explanation mercifully unnecessary. That usual ‘safe space’ of emptiness that she kept around her incrementally diminishing into absent mindedness. The rumpled white plastic bag heavy at her side no longer a telltale stigma in its odd collection of cast offs. Some of which had been gleaned from the asphalt close beside a few of the parked vehicles standing at rest in the parking lot of a nearby drugstore franchise. Bits and pieces of the general verbal interchange reflecting off the somewhat softened features of the woman who replied no quite smiling yet no longer grim. As she listened from afar one might have imagined that she was not simply caught up in the concerns of another day on here way to a normal job, that in her case, hadn’t existed for a century or two.
Had one been looking at the ensemble from some unseen gallery it was evident that a certain amount of sympathy had congealed. The many seemed like one who still set some store by a basic sense of empathy for humanity in general. His match in conversation neutral but not shunning. No spontaneous offers for a modicum of financial assistance but no threat of a sudden dismissive attitude either. The rhythm of the moment was brooked when the man stepped momentarily to the curb to announce the approach of the bus. The blue suburban transit route one followed several blocks behind by its green municipal counterpart. It ruses forth like some overanxious beast causing all to ready their cards for entry. As the marquee on the first displayed something patently unusual to travelers familiar with this route, the buss driver had to yell out and repeat the route number when the doors crashed open as he stopped proverbially on a dime by the curb. The man stood by the bus’ entrance his right hand politely deferred in a gentlemanly gesture The ardor of repetition by the driver caused two of the three to enter quickly. The small woman with her hair uncovered remaining behind for the other bus following. This inconsequential act almost summoning a smile from the vagrant as she boarded.
The configuration of the seating arrangements within allowed for both face to face and benches pointed straight ahead. A closer look at the man revealed that his gray hair entitled him to a position on the front set of benches while the ‘street princess’ took one forward facing a set or two further back. The buses’ constant cycle of rapid acceleration alternated with hard braking confiding in the most demonstrative way that the driver was on a tight schedule. Back and forth the passengers rocked all seeming blase to the implicit violence of each approach to a regular stop. The man’s eyes every once in a while looking back to briefly scan the vagrant woman who now had sank back into herself with a blank inward focused expression. On the fourth part of this cycle by a traffic light the driver waited for a score of several seconds for an unseen passenger to cross and feverishly alight. His consideration allowing a buoyant young woman up the steps to pay her fare and cross to a bench seat just opposite of a much older disused counterpart. This much younger ingenue sporting green hair and rudely applied tons of makeup that in the overanxious proclivities of youth served more to hide her store of natural beauty rather than artfully enhance it. The aged female vagrant had reawakened this time as the voyeur looking to the side at the post adolescent. The expression upon her face suggesting a recognition of her own reflection captured so very long ago when she was living a different existence not unlike the child so currently innocent of the hard knocks of life sitting just across from her. The contrast of wasting age and precocious youth summoning a comparison that suggest that the more aged of the two still retained a measure of pleasing appearance despite the burden of her current miseries. Given some rest and welcomed back to a normalized existence one could have also just as easily speculated that for her age she would have had few rivals among her own. A pair of ironic bookends. Their ensemble presenting the effect of life’s meandering inconsistencies that lay lodged betwixt them.
The man sat transfixed, his gaze registering a sense of sadness at the scene. His emotions caught by how life was so inevitable. There being no control as to one’s outcome beyond the eventual reassurance that one day it would all go to the same form of final rest. The bus rocked to a stop as he tumbled up to his feet steadying himself as he headed towards the exit door. The bitterness of this hard knowledge within his still silent tongue.