She rose and offered the elderly man her seat after he boarded and fretted a moment, mashing his closed lips, looking unsteady. He left his bags on the rubber flooring in front of the rear door where he came on, and made his way down half the length of the bus. Without shifting their gazes, the knot of strap-hangers loosened to let him through without other acknowledgment. With arthritic slowness, he turned until his pants were positioned above the seat and his chest angled as a counter-balance into the aisle. The riders to either side of him winced when he sat with a thump; they’d just caught wind of his goat-like aroma.
Standing now, she watched the black man with the cup of orange soda. Without having a reason she was proud to admit, she kept her eye on him.
“It takes two, baby / It takes two, baby... that’s me and you.” As he sang, his arms flapped crazily, expressive of good feelings and a flirty mood. Both were covered in healed scars, and muscle tissue was missing. Maybe an angry, hungry pit bull. How could she ask? He didn’t seem self-conscious; perhaps his loudness and vim were his way of defying the natural feelings of discomfort are companions to deformity. He sang, he bragged, he greeted each new rider as they walked past:
“Hey baby, we’re feeling good to-day, am I right? Hoo, look at sister here! She’s looking proud with that new weave, ha-ha-ha, no baby, you know it’s good. It’s hot, who’s hot, we hot, she’s hot, it takes two baby, just me an’ you.” Each time he repeated the refrain, he pointed—with his whole body—to the woman sitting next to him.
The standing woman, marked as a Samaritan by her donation of a seat and a Catholic by her St. Christopher medal, kept watching him, and glancing over to other riders to see who else was watching. The husky boy in the button-down was, and they as they noticed each other they shared a glance in solidarity. The huskier boy, a student by the look of his backpack and uncharacteristic slacks, was not, and kept his eyes pointed out the window at the apartment buildings and storefronts passing by in spurts.
He sang more loudly, and swung his arms more aggressively, more flamboyantly, tracing switchbacks with his hand and snapping his fingers, writhing in his seat. He pressed his fleshy body against the girl next to him as if they’d known each other for years and she was the one female friend he trusted, and since the only one, the one that had to suffice to suffer all his sublimated physical attentions, with his experiments in making physical contact less excruciating, less alien. His face glistened unbecomingly with the effort; the bumps on his cheeks at the base of most hairs sparkled.
Yolanda—the name hung in each of her heart-shaped earrings—tried to hide her face entirely in the space between her shoulder and the window. Finally the standing woman couldn’t watch any longer, and pushed her way to the front of the bus. At the next stop, she leaned across the payment console and said brief, informative things to the driver.
The driver rose out of her seat like a mother whose lost her patience, and pointed directly at the offender: “Do you know her? Don’t you talk to her. Honey, is he harassing you? Do you know him?”
He howled hurtfully about freedom of speech, and can’t a brother just be friendly, can’t a person smile and say hello, hello, and be nice to people, and what was wrong with her. But the driver wasn’t having it; she waggled her magenta-painted, no-nonsense acrylic tip right back at him, and made impressive statements about disturbing the peace and how one has to know better. Even as she sat back down, the beam of her irritation bounced off the rear-view mirror into his face. His protests grew louder and louder, louder than his original singing and come-ons: “This is America and I can say what I want where I want.” Then she hit on it: “Okay baby, just keep it down.”
“That sounds better,” he said, mollified.
When he gets off the bus a few blocks later, he starts to spin like a roller disco queen the moment he hits the sidewalk. His orange soda stays in his cup despite not having a lid, despite his dancing and gyrations. As the bus pulls away, he spreads his legs wide and bends at the knees and hips, dropping his backside closer to the pavement. With his arms raised in a Pentecostal gesture of praise, it looks like he’s still singing, though the interior of the bus is hushed now. He waves flirtatiously and dismissively to the driver as she takes off.