Ever since his wife died, riding the bus became Oscar’s outing for the day. He once enjoyed walking, but his hips made a simple stroll to the corner a painful experience. Hip replacement surgery was discussed by his doctor, but the recuperation, he feared, would cut seriously into whatever time he had left on Earth. His daughter suggested he stay with her, and he loved his daughter very much, but he wondered if that feeling could endure cohabitation.
He adapted to his new reality, trying to make the best of it. Most days, he shuffled out of his apartment, cane in hand, to the bus stop halfway down the block. He’d leave at different times so the driver and passengers remained strangers. He enjoyed the anonymity as much as the facade that he had something to do, some place to be.
Oscar had taken an early afternoon trip yesterday, so he left late today. He planned a short ride, knowing the bus would soon be crowded with people returning home from work. No sense taking up a seat from someone exhausted after a day at the job.
He struggled up the bus stairs, placing both feet on each landing.
“Got a seat for you, young fellow,” the bus driver shouted, pointing to the section reserved for the disabled and elderly. Oscar hated sitting there as much as he hated being called “young fellow” by people half his age, but a quick scan of the bus showed no obviously available seats, except for the back where kids with their baggy clothes laughed and cursed. He sat down and slid over as far from the driver as possible, being in no mood for conversation.
The bus jolted and squealed from stop to stop, a motion Oscar felt oddly relaxing. He eased into his thoughts, trying to imagine the life of a balding man sitting nearby carrying a large package. Was it a present for a would-be lover or something his wife demanded he pick up on his way home from work? Or was it simply a bag of dirty laundry he wrapped so people would think he was carrying something important. Of course, it could be a bomb, but small bald men wearing sneakers and black socks weren’t likely bomb throwers.
The bus stopped and an attractive woman about his granddaughter’s age climbed in. Something about the way she carefully maneuvered the steps caught his eye. She paid her fare, her eyes staring just above the driver’s head.
Her face turned red as the youths in the back called to her, “Hey, sit here. We got what you’re lookin’ for.”
“Pipe down,” the bus driver boomed.
“Damn thugs,” someone shouted.
She held onto the front pole and looked straight ahead. Oscar realized she was blind.
“Sit here,” he said, in his most reassuring voice. “It’s all right.” He moved over to give her more room.
She smiled, and promptly sat on his lap.
The kids in the back shouted, “Nice move, grandpa.”
The woman pushed herself off Oscar and turned her head. He wasn’t sure if she was embarrassed by her mistake or angered because she thought he did that on purpose.
“I’m so sorry, Miss,” Oscar said.
After a moment, she spoke. “It’s all right. My fault. My dog, Prince, had to be put to sleep last week. We were together since I was a girl and he was a pup. I hadn’t realized how much I depended upon him.”
Oscar could see tears in her eyes.
“I wish I could offer you a handkerchief,” he said. “But I don’t have one. An old man should always carry a handkerchief.”
She laughed. “Are you old? You have a very kind voice.”
“Thank you but, yes, I’m old. And I know what it’s like to lose a friend. My wife passed away two years ago.”
Oscar liked how she lowered her eyes, even if she couldn’t see.
“Well, I get off next stop,” she said. “Tenth Avenue.”
“How did you know?”
“I’ve been counting. This is the sixth stop since I’ve gotten on.”
“Interesting. I have no idea where I am.” He looked out the window.
“Where are you going?”
Oscar admitted he’d soon get off, cross the street and catch a return bus to his home.
“Then come with me. I’d like you to meet my husband.”
“Why not? Do you like Chinese food? Jack calls in an excellent Hunan Chicken.”
He held onto his cane with two hands and pushed himself up as she rose. “Chinese sounds good.”
They exited the bus to the cheers of the backseat riders.
“Lead the way,” Oscar said.
She took his arm. “I’ll need your help.”
It was so long since anyone needed him, Oscar felt like doing a Gene Kelly dance move with his cane. He settled for a confident tap on the pavement.
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film.