Now I am one of them: the desperate passengers. One of the thwarted people, like a bird tied by one leg to its perch, straining at the horizon, flapping my wings in imitation of flight, dreaming about what this sixteen-dollar bus ticket, in a life that had gone in a better direction, could have been:
A winning lottery ticket. A giant tax refund. An unspoken-for paycheque, deductions already made. But just as I’ve settled back into the seat, tucked my elbow hard against my side to make room for the very large man beside me, whose girth seems to increase with every intake of breath (a quick expansion outward accompanying a wet and aching series of wheezes that, impossibly, does not make his girth recede) .
Just as I realize how thick the tobacco smell is here, where so many have just inhaled whole cigarettes in under a minute as a stopgap application of nicotine to last for the coming hour, there is an unannounced shock at the ends of my fingers and the flat, papery flit of my bus ticket being wrenched from my hand.
Without a word to merely acknowledge my existence, the navy-shirted, navy-tied, navy-jacketed bus driver, a wide wall of a man with smooth olive skin and impeccably trimmed moustache and sideburns and no trace of a sense of humour on his face, holds the ticket at the length of both arms and leans away from it as though it were the single worst-smelling object in whose presence he’s ever breathed.
He rips the ticket in half down the perforation, hands me back my portion without troubling himself to make eye contact , as though to say: “Here! Here is what you get! Half! Half as much! This is what you deserve: half!”
In the seat behind me, the woman with the wild, dried-out frizzy hair has begun to rub her face again. With the flats of both hands: up and down. It is mid-winter and the skin of her hands and of her face is dry. I do not have to look back to know. I hear the sandpaper scratching of her palms on her cheeks.
She takes up moaning again: a long, slow half-satisfied/ half-terrified sound that could only be produced by a ravaged throat.
Five minutes ago, the last time she’d rubbed her face so hard and made this same sound, it came out like Wine! or Mine! But this time, as though in solidarity with me for the hurful way the driver has treated me, it seems she is crying out for justice: “Why? Why? Why?”