I’m standing here, not doing much but standing where I always stand. People come and go, lean on me, and stare at my midsection with furrowed brows.
“240 doesn’t come for half an hour,” a woman groans to the wide man panting next to her. They’ve been in a rush. Her carrot hair is twirled around the sunhat that’s nestled onto her scalp, spilling over hunched shoulders and bringing out the dim pockmarks that line her cheeks like sideburns.
The man wheezes and clutches me around the middle with a damp, needy hand. I’d like to flinch, but alas, movement is not an ability I possess. Instead I sigh inwardly and try not to topple over beneath his sweaty weight. The woman is peeved. She attempts to smooth her wind-blown hair, straightens her skirt, and grumbles away. The hand releases me and hurriedly follows after her.
It’s only eight, but my stop is packed with commuters, townies, and the occasional tourist ambling by in search of coffee. Fog has begun to lift off the lake and dissipate into the morning air. The sun makes a brief appearance, then retreats behind an expansive cloud bank threatening rain. Another day in paradise. I typically don’t mind the rain, as it keeps me clean and cool.
As usual, I entertain myself by keeping track of each bus that arrives and departs on time. It is my reluctant duty. But what else have I got to occupy myself with? 60X is late today. Only two men in dark suits board 501. And 129 is being driven by a substitute this week. I heard the regular operator is on his honeymoon.
I don’t often see children at this hour. Children should be in school, practicing their letters and playing dress-up, drawing their lives in crayon. But today, a child has caught up with the wild-haired woman and sweaty man. She looks about six years old, and I can imagine has been through more than her fair share of stress with those two as parents. Right now they pay her no mind. The man is busy poring over a gleaming map that was folded wrong the last time it was put away, and the woman contributes a sullen gaze to his bumbling interpretations of the city.
The child wanders from the couple now, pink sneakers dragging as she makes her way towards me. She studies my charts and timetables with inquisitive eyes. They are amber like her hair, which is drawn back into a tight silk ponytail. I wonder if she got herself ready this morning, sifting through her dresser drawers before settling on the purple velour hoodie and sparkle-dotted jeans. Perhaps she’s not even the child of the adult duo at all; they could be neighbors or distant relatives, temporary caretakers. The girl taps me absentmindedly with her toe, and hums a television jingle.
When 240 arrives, early today, carrot-haired woman and her fleshy counterpart perk up like startled rabbits. The child is jerked along by one slender arm and hoisted onto the bus. The man fumbles with his change under the driver’s cool stare. A few dozen quarters race down the fare slot. With a rumble and hot blast of exhaust, they are off.