What drew her most about riding in a public bus with its molded seats and the remaining stench of chicharon in the air was the semblance of someone else, no one in particular really, but someone having taken the same seat as the one she is seated in now. In her mind, they formed a string of people that fell on the same path as she did. Minutes before. Days before. Months before. And how, long after they were gone, they left pieces of themselves for her to find.
She would take the colored candy wrappers shoved in the crevices of the seat’s spine and roll it around until she reached her destination, hoping this would somehow give her premonition to who they were, where they are now.
At times, she would try to guess whose life it was she was holding. A ripped off cardboard with scribbled prices probably belonged to a meat vendor hurrying off to haggle for livestock. An extinguished cigarette butt to a bored college student who takes the bus to and from his town to the big city. Frayed Ben 10 stickers on the metal wall to an irate child squirming in his mother’s lap. She would scrutinize them and hold conversations in her head all the while making sure her bag was placed in the seat beside her, consuming space she did not want others to have.
When the bus was full and she’d be forced to move, she would stay near the window to avoid conversation, look at the sea and think about the old man whose handkerchief had been left on the clasp. Today was one of those days. When she should have taken a more comfortable V-Hire or a faster EasyRide but again chose not to. Somehow she knew somebody was gesturing for her to move her bag even before she looked up. She didn’t look up. It was in her experience that talkers usually have an open grin on their face at the very start and she’d long feared to look back lest they mistake it for rapport.
But he was not a talker. He looked past the aisles, past the window even, and stared at something he could only see. His key chains, the one that hung from his bag, lay partly on her thigh and smiled back at her. There was very little space to work with but he moved away nonetheless. She knew then he was afraid to touch skin just as much as she was.
Afraid. The little girl had been too. Years ago, in that beat-up green Dodge truck, she would sit between the mother who was driving, arms gripping wheels, and the father, elbow propped in the sill looking at the corrugated houses far off. There was no conversation. Only grunts. And passing the message back and forth. At least, they could not accuse her of playing favorites, she thought. To pass the time, she would fold her shoulders the smallest she could make them, imagining herself to be a collapsible table. Or move the glass beads of her bracelet back and forth until they reached home.
At the side of her eyes, the man had not moved. His elbows were propped on the seat. His hand moved back and forth to his ring finger, searching for something he could no longer touch. His head moved sideways, and for an instant, she thought he’d look at her but probably not. In the other side of the aisle, two lovers slept, bumping heads. In the front end, a teenager holding a box with a rooster inside drummed with his knuckles. The conductor counted tickets. Ongoing chatter by officemates on the back. And her, careening to the left. Him, pushing farthest right.
She was almost home. The glass beads played in her hands, its frayed nylon stretching as she took it off. For once, she would leave a piece for someone else to find.