Just a Stranger on the Bus
Roughly four hours into a five-hour trip from New Orleans to Beaumont, Texas, the bus pulled into the Lake Charles, La., Greyhound station. After we stretched our legs a bit, the reboarding passengers got on, followed by new passengers. I was a little miffed that someone sat next to me. He smelled of sweat and pickles, and had little understanding of personal space or cell-phone-on-public-transport etiquette. But the only empty seats were singles on the aisle, and not many of them at that. The driver was firing up the engine when there was a loud pounding on the door, then a collective groan as we all realized our departure was about to be delayed by someone who was going to insist on getting onto the already crowded bus.
The driver opened the door and stared out, but no one got on. He looked annoyed as he left his seat and stepped out of the bus, only to return a few seconds later, carrying a screaming, flailing, little red-haired boy, grasping him by the sides, arms extended. He put the boy gently into the first open seat, which was in the second row next to a woman who looked like someone had just handed her a live grenade. The screaming intensified when a moment later the boy’s mother appeared, carrying a second distraught, slightly smaller red-haired boy. She looked to weigh all of 100 pounds and had what seemed to be everything the family owned in two backpacks slung over her shoulders.
People were annoyed with her, and she knew it. She turned to face the crowd, and I saw the ugly bruise on her cheek, the shiner and the bright, red blood pooling in the corner of her eye. She looked frail and frazzled and scared to death. And there was no way she was going to finagle herself and those children into that lone seat and put her bags overhead without help.