A woman wearing a soft red beret on a mess of grey hair clutched her plastic bag of precious things to her chest. She leaned against the window as the bus rolled away from the stop. Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and trailed down her face. The windowglass cooled her feverish cheek and temporarily grounded her thoughts which were racing high above public transportation. Her heart skipped two beats and returned to its normal rhythm.
Good, it still works, she thought about her old ticker, grateful for the reminder. It was the answer to a pending question that the woman forgot to ask. She felt a strange relief in the occasional proof of her vitality. She wanted to get home but still had two more transfers to go.
A young mother with a crooked wig sat across the aisle from her, distractedly holding a fussy baby. The overwhelming smell of a soiled diaper permeated the air. It was impossible to ignore for the other patrons of the bus, yet, the woman stared out the window with blank eyes, nodding in and out of consciousness. Every once in a while, she remembered the weight in her arms and gave it a jiggle before her head fell backwards or forwards, overcome again with sleep.
Another child stood on the seat next to the young mother and hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. He wore shorts and a dirty Superman t-shirt stretched tight over his round belly. He looked at the woman next to him and licked the back of the seat in front of him. He looked at her again and he licked the window. He looked closely at the woman as she dozed with the infant in her arms and still saw no reaction; he grabbed hold of the seatbelt strap and started licking the metal attachment.
The woman with the soft red beret watched from across the aisle as the boy explored his world by taste and begged for attention. She stopped herself from yelling at the young mother, “Wake up! Your boy is going to fall or catch a terrible disease.”
Maybe the licking is a part of a terrible disease that he already has, she wondered, probably caught from licking the window on a previous ride. She pursed her lips and bit her tongue; it wasn’t her place to say something. You don’t tell other people how to take care of their kids, she reasoned. Guilt made knots in her stomach as she nervously watched and hoped her next transfer would come before disaster struck.
The boy continued to lick the seatbelt, perhaps absorbing some necessary minerals otherwise missing from his diet. He was a little deer at a salt lick in need of mineral nutrients or in this case, bus goobers. Then the baby began to move about. She reached up with a pudgy arm and grabbed at her mother’s blouse; her chubby fingers surprisingly strong. She pulled the edge of the shirt lower and lower, and exposed a single sagging breast, indecent even by the standard of bus culture.
And still the bus rolled on.