An inconvenience can become tolerable when it’s the norm. I’m starting to think this is the appropriate concept for riding city buses. They’re functional, born out of necessity, but nobody likes them. Especially if you’ve ever driven in a car, and it’s likely you have. Then you know how motorists will avoid a bus as if it’s obtrusiveness were contagious. It’s more about not getting trapped anywhere near one. The vehicular equivalent to a social outcast.
Plus taking the bus always feels like one step above hitchhiking. Sure, you pay for the ride instead, but it’s more like a big impromptu carpool the city put together. However, after that last taxi encounter, I began taking the bus everywhere. No matter how many stops, or transfers there were to make. I patted myself on the back for this, thinking I had learned some lesson.
Perhaps I did, it was proving to be more cost effective. The extra time my deliveries were taking me didn’t cut into my earnings hardly at all. I considered this one day, on a long trip up north again, when I was reminded of one particular fact I had forgot: You never know who’s gonna get on the bus.
I had my head down, nose into a free newspaper. One of those cheap knockoffs of a larger publication. They’re the newspaper version of fast food. Fills you up, but still leaves you feeling empty. No real value. If there was they’d charge for it. Growing weary of the superficial ingredients of article after article, I had flipped back to the crossword puzzle. Moving quickly through the downs, I then became stuck on six letters across for something stale and unpleasant. Then it hit me.
After our most recent stop, a smell so foul began to permeate this box on wheels. Permeate is putting it lightly. It was more like it was infecting the air. Eating up the oxygen and nitrogen, and converting it into breathable sewage. I was about to wretch, when an announcement began from the culprit, distracting me enough to keep my lunch in place.
She appeared to be female, but wore several shirts and jackets, all too big for her. Hair frizzled and frazzled in all directions. When she spoke, her gender was pretty much confirmed. In a softer tone she apologized for the smell. Still standing, and facing the back of the bus, she continued to tell us that she suffered from a rare condition. One that caused her skin to melt, decaying almost to the point where it fell off.
Never hearing of anything like this before, I have to wonder if it’s for real. It was hard to argue with the smell, which now completely infested this bus. Any explanation instantly became plausible in the face of something so putrid, and I wondered how long the odor would live here after she departed the vehicle.
I noticed several other passengers looking for a way out, but the bus was already in motion again. There was no escape, for a couple more blocks at least. A woman near the front, as kindly and inconspicuously as she could, reached up and pulled the cord to request a stop. The young man across the aisle from me was not so graceful, yanking open the window, and trying to stick his face out it’s narrow opening.
The woman continued her explanation, stating that she took to showering fifteen times a day. Doctors were baffled. Few on the bus paid any attention. They were now focused on their own survival, and I began worrying about the driver. He was right in front of it. How did he manage to stand it? Would he pass out from its toxicity? Was she putting us all in danger?
I tried to catch a glimpse of the driver in the big mirror he uses to watch us all. It was a relief to see him still there, eyes open and forward. Despite the sourest of looks on his face. At the next stop, most of the passengers exited the bus. I remained, in part because I know what it’s like to feel so isolated. But mostly because I was only another stop from my destination. Not to mention, minutes from a deadline that should nab me a good bonus. How much permanent damage could it do to my olfactory nerve anyways?
Finally to my stop, I casually step off the bus. Then run several steps. Sure that I’m clear of the stench, I deeply take in cleansing breaths. Then watch several would-be passengers step up, then right off the bus before paying.
Realizing I’ve been distracted, I check the time. Only a few minutes to spare. I have to run. Which I don’t like. But I make it. Bonus acquired. Then to the next delivery. On what will surely be a fresher conveyance.