Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chicago Memory #2

Last night, I was on the 22 Clark bus heading towards the Gold Coast to meet some friends for a going away gathering at the Hunt Club. My iPod headphones were snug in my ears, blaring the newest Brazilian Girls CD, "New York City." I went into commuting mode; my eyes glazed over and neighborhoods began to melt into each other as the bus hurtled down Clark Street. The drunken frattish antics of Wrigleyville gave way to the easygoing feel of Belmont, people passed by, stumbling, laughing, walking, waiting.

A woman got on at the Clark and Belmont stop, wearing a large, red men's coat too heavy for the muggy weather outside. The words "Phila" were printed in various fonts and sizes all over it. She staggered and swayed as the bus lurched forward, standing beside the bus driver and rummaging for change.

She plopped down next to me, her bare legs splayed in the aisle. Foam was gathering in the corners of her mouth as she spoke to herself. She bent over in her seat and began feeling around under her seat for something.

"Did you drop something?" I ventured.

I bent over in my seat as well and after feeling around for a bit, produced a quarter and a metallic red and gold curlicue bow, the kind you put on presents. I offered both to her outstretched hand. The bow matched the jacket she was wearing.

"Thank you, girl," she said. She leaned back in her seat. She reached inside the jacket, the tops of her barely covered breasts visible, and produced crumbled bills. A twenty. A five.

"Hey!" the bus driver yelled over her shoulder. "The woman that just got on. This is as far as I'm going to go if you can't find any change."

The woman ignored her and stared at me. The bus continued down Clark. I avoided her gaze.

I think she said something about how nice I was, and reached out to tuck my braids behind one ear.

"You should do your hair like that. Behind one ear," she smiled, her eyes unfocused. More foam bubbled around her lips. "It's sexier."

"Oh, ok," I smile back.

She continued on, slurring. "I do hair like the Africans, but I don't charge as much. I do that," motioning at my curly braids, "for $30!"

"$30!" I say. "Wow, that's cheap."

"Give me your number, I'll call you and you can let me do your hair."

"Um..."

The bus driver stops the bus again. She's exasperated. She probably has to do this more than she would like. "Excuse me! The woman who just got on. There's another bus 2 blocks behind me! You can get off on this stop, find your change and get on that one."

The woman ignores her again, and pulls out a slip of paper and a broken eyebrow pencil. She attempts writing on it, then tries to bite off the pencil to produce some lead.

"Just give me your number," she pleads, her eyes looking over my face frantically.

"Um..."

The bus driver has now stood up. As the woman stands I notice all she's wearing underneath the jacket is a tank top and underwear.

"God told me to treat women the way they treat me." She smiles at me but glares at the bus driver as she stumbles off the bus. The doors close as she attempts to offer me one last piece of advice.

"Don't let men treat you..."

The bus moves down Clark and I smile ruefully at the people sitting next to me. Ashamed that I'm ashamed of my kindness, ashamed of the woman's state, ashamed of what the people were probably thinking of her and of me, and ashamed that I was ashamed of their thoughts, real or imagined.

3 comments:

RetroTrasher said...

my favorite post yet.

Ashley said...

AAAmazing and so Chicago.
You ARE Chicago, indeed. lol.

Anonymous said...

Loved that post!