It took me over an hour to get home today. I left my jacket at my work area, and had to ride the shuttle back from the parking lot. Today I worked at the farthest end of the property. It is a long ride, and I was annoyed at the situation I’d put myself in. Not just forgetting my jacket, but also for a thousand tiny acts of self-sabotage and cowardice. In other words, I was on a dingy work shuttle and having a small mood swing.
As the shuttle swung out around the grounds, other people shuffled on. A small group of women boarded, already mid-conversation. The main speaker was a plain woman with a round belly, a bulbous facial mole and frizzy hair. Though at first glance, I disliked her, I warmed up to her as she told her story.
“She came up to me and called me a dumb ass in front of my crew for going out into the rain. I don’t know what science class she went to, but I’d rather be in my car with four rubber tires that standing around with a bunch of metal and lightning flashing everywhere. And she called me a dumb ass in front of my crew!” She gestured emphatically, tossing her gold hoop earrings and feathered hair, “So I told her, ‘Don’t you never call me outside my name again in front of my crew!’”
An interesting turn of phrase, I thought. “Outside my name,” as if any other reference would be demeaning, no matter what the intent. What an individualistic perspective.
The woman’s audience still listened appreciatively, so she continued, “On top of that, she spreads other people’s information. If you wanna talk to me in hypotheticals and not use no particulars or names, I’ll roll like that, but when she starts talking, I just wave my hand and say ‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know.’”
And I thought, “Good for you, she sounds like an idiot.”
The next stop was crowded, and a wiry woman in her forties sat across from me, and addressed the young man who had boarded with her, seated next to me. “She had been messing with them both, but she went to the funeral.” And though I should have been moved immediately by the statement, both by the thought of having to decide whether to attend a loved one’s funeral despite one’s indiscretions, and also by the weary demeanor which betrayed the woman’s loss—I was not so empathetic. My first uncensored thought was, “Oh, this is going to be good.”
“She was there when you got there?” Said the sleepy-eyed young man beside me.
“No, I was here. They told me. They asked her to leave, but she didn’t, so they called the cops. You know she (her emphasis and gestures indicating a different female) went and picked up his things from the courthouse and his cell phone was bloody where he’d been returning her text message. There was a message that hadn’t been sent, ‘I love you, Mom.’ But it hadn’t been sent.”
Here the boy murmured some affirmative, and it crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be looking directly at her as I listened to her story. I looked to the head of the bus where three young men just out of their teens were sitting, dressed slightly too stylishly to be at work. One made eye contact, which I did not break and did not smile. Unnerved, he looked back at the speaker, a blonde with a new baseball hat. “I mean, I like her or whatever, but-“
Now the woman across from me started talking again, “Public Menace is what they got her on. She probably got out in a few hours.” She barely shrugged. “The director of JCYC (Jefferson County Youth Services, indicating that the deceased person was under 18, or just over) made a copy of his transcript with the 4.0 grade point average and framed it and gave it to her.”
“Was is a shotgun?” This guy next to me was a soft touch, I think.
“No, that was just gossip. It was a .38. He had it on him, and tried to fight him, but he wouldn’t fight. His face was all scratched up. So the guy shot him in the chest, then twice in the back as he ran away. The shotgun was just rumors.”
As the sleepy boy next to me drawled out some response, the conversation from the head of the bus became more animated. The blond was deeply expressive and waved his hands, “And she tried to kiss me but I was like, ‘No!’ and backed her off of me.”
“He used to come over when he was just a kid and sit on my counter with these cowboy boots and kick on my cabinets with them. He liked the sound, but it made me so mad,” She said without displeasure, smiling absently. “He was banging up my cabinets.” As she looked warmly into the space by my feet, the boys at the head of the bus laughed loudly at some unrelated joke.
Shortly, the shuttle pulled up to the guard shack, and after so many stories of intrusion, and the drain of unwanted intimacy with others, I was the first to stand up to go, clinging my sweater to me tightly as I walked through the metal detectors and to my car.