A little old man falls while running to get on the bus. He falls face first into the doorway steps. There is a tense, uncomfortable moment while I wait to see if someone is going to rush to his aid, but no one does. My instinct is to do so. But we are sitting further back, and I keep expecting the bus driver to get up and help the man stand. Or one of the women sitting up front, at least. But no one does anything.
The little old man gets up on his own and steps onto the bus with one hand covering his mouth. His mouth is red, and blood is gushing between his fingers, dripping down his arm. The bus driver hands him some paper towels. He sits up front, visibly shaken, embarrassed, and in pain. A woman up front asks if he needs to go to the doctor because it looks like he could use some stitches. But he shakes his head, “No.”
When the bus starts up again the man realizes he lost his wallet when he fell, so the driver stops again, and the woman up front and the old man go back to look for it. The driver asks if anyone is in a hurry and if we mind waiting while they look, but no one minds. A few minutes later, the wallet found, the old man and younger woman board the bus again, and the bus takes off. Everyone is relieved.
“This is why I never want you to run to catch the bus.” Carlos says. He has this idea that I’m clumsy and accident prone. Mostly because I’m constantly dropping, losing, or running into things. The week before I’d run into a wooden bench as we exited a cafe that left a huge, purple bruise on my shin. I tell him not to worry, I’d never run to catch a bus. Ice cream truck, maybe. Bus, never.
We were coming back from the co-op with a canvas bag full of fresh produce and raw goat milk. Carlos is a closet hippie. He made me hide my water bottle in his messenger bag before we went inside. I accused him of being ashamed of me. He said he was afraid that the Birkenstock clad, patchouli reeking patrons would lynch me if I came in with a plastic bottle. So while he rooted through the locally grown, organic produce, and the fairly traded, vegan, hemp toothbrushes hand crafted by Inuit women, I stood in a corner and updated my Facebook page on my iPhone.
On buses in Portland people all smell like cheese. “We’ve traded the mole people for the cheese people,” Carlos observes, referring to the people of Seattle and Portland respectively. I point out that either is a step up from the busses in Vancouver where everyone is talking to their parole officer on the way to the methadone clinic. Prior to moving here, I’d have guessed that P.O. stood for post office.
On the bus today, the little old man is coagulating. He presses a paper towel to his split lip with one hand while the other hand grips the yellow hand rail. I watch in fascinated horror as his hand slides down the yellow rail, leaving a red trail of blood and saliva from his wound. He touches inside his mouth feeling out the damage, the skin of his lip split like a squashed plum.
“This is why you should always wash your hands after leaving the bus.” Carlos says. “Hepatitis can live on a surface for days.” Sometimes Carlos’s knowledge of health and nutrition disturb me. I realize that I’m never touching anything in public again.
Meanwhile, I’m worried about the little, old man. Partly from genuine concern for a fellow human being, but mostly in an abstract way for what he represents. An old man, alone (and bleeding) on a bus. The future. Specifically my future. It’s impossible not to imagine myself as a still spry octogenarian, running for the hover-bus in some futuristic, northern town and planting my face into the dirty steps.
Will I have anyone to look after me? A spouse or children to drive me to the ER to get some stitches. Someone to make a fuss and buy me ice cream? Or will a bus driver hand me some paper towels, and that will be that?
Carlos looks at me and asks, “Baby, are you thirsty? Do you want your water back?” I smile and say, “Yes please.”
As the old man leaves the bus, an older woman gets on. They exchange a few words, and when the bus starts up again, she’s on her cell phone. Hear her say to someone on the other end, “Can you look in on Frank? He had a fall today getting on the bus, and cut his lip.” I’m relieved that Frank has someone who cares enough to look in and see that he’s okay. That hopefully he’ll get the stitches and the attention that he needs.
Today, Carlos puts his hand on my knee and says, “This is our stop.”
Today, today is all that matters.