Leslie is wrapped up in her own life troubles, when she meets someone with an odd request.
| Standing in the cold, persistent rain, Leslie holds a large black purse in front of her, clutching it with one hand tightly. With a nervous darting glance down the street, watching for the bus, she sees it coming up the side of the road. Cursing softly to herself, she pushes back strands of wet auburn hair that the rain has pasted to her face randomly, and goes back to digging through her purse with an obvious desperation to her jerky movements. A city bus, with a loud advertisement splayed across its side about a popular radio station, pulls up beside the bus stop with a loud squeal. Startled, and very anxious, Leslie rights her heavy purse, and with a sigh, slings it over her shoulder. With the rain falling down steadily, she tries to keep it out of her face by lowering her head, waiting at the back of the line to go on last. Feeling the cold rain hitting the top of her already drenched hair and some drops sliding down onto her neck, she shivers, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest, and tucking her freckled hands under her armpits. As the line is reduced by people flashing bus passes or dropping a few coins into the slot ahead of her, Leslie steadily makes her way to the sliding doors, holding tightly onto her purse. For some reason, this moment of getting on the bus always makes her nervous. It’s not as though the driver, in his bored redundancy will refuse her access, but she is unsure each time she climbs the step – perhaps he will for some reason she cannot think of. For example, maybe her pass will suddenly be the wrong one, or it is expired and she didn’t realize it. Maybe he will stop her and demand to get a closer look just to be sure it is real. She knows none of these reasons are at all logical, yet nevertheless, her senses are always heightened at this moment and she is hyper-aware of his facial expressions, carefully measuring them so as to have some warning ahead of time. However, unlike those other afternoons, this time Leslie knows he likely will. She’s seen him do it to others.
With a fluttering fear in her stomach, she places her flat black dress shoe on the first step and thinks briefly about the second last person in front of her receiving their nod and most likely, scanning the seats, calculating the best possible place to take a seat. The heat from inside the bus hits her, and it causes her resolution of simply stating her cause to falter, and just begins hoping he will allow her on where she can be warm.
“I am v-v-very sorry,” she starts with a stutter, seeing the sudden cold look come into what was previously a slack and bored face. She knows her question is not likely to be received very positively, and although she hates the shame that crawls up from her stomach to redden her face, she must try anyhow, “I cannot find my pass anywhere. But you know I have one, you see me every day at this time.” She added that last part in panic, as she saw him starting to shake his head. As soon as she added it, she regretted the assumption she’d made on her part that he’d even care. She continued anyways, “Please allow me to ride home. I’ll be sure to have a pass for tomorrow.”
“I am sorry for you. I really am,” the driver says carefully, “but you know that I cannot let you on without money or a pass.”
“Please,” Leslie grimaced at her begging, knowing she was on display for the bus to see her discomfort and unfortunate circumstance, “It is miserable outside, I need to get home to my daughter.”
At the shake of his head again, she bowed her own slightly, letting her long, wet hair fall into her face again, feeling tears start to prickle at the corner of her eyes. Standing there for another few seconds, wishing he would change his mind, she started to turn around to go back down the scuffed and scratched stairs out into the pelting rain.
“Wait,” a woman called out from near the front of the bus. Leslie looked back in surprise and hope to see an elderly lady, her walker to the side of her legs, reaching into her own purse. The woman’s hands shook slightly as she held a grey, fabric purse that was quite obviously well-worn, with stitching sliding out from a few of the seams. A man with a face carved by lines given to him by time, said with a tight urgent voice, “Gracey, what are you doing?” The lady ignored him, and with a satisfied grunt, brought a few coins out with her hand. Leslie looked at her in shock, which Gracey snapped her out of with, “Well, do you want a ride on the bus, Miss or not?” Looking at the bus driver cautiously, Leslie felt even worse and really was not sure how to proceed.
“Look, I have to get moving on this route. Take the lady’s money, put it in the slot, I’ll give you a pass, and we can all move on with our lives,” the driver said with a touch of annoyance in his voice.
Leslie looked back at the old lady, holding the coins in her palm. The money jingled quietly as the woman’s hand shook. What galvanized Leslie to act, was not the money sitting there, nor was it the annoyance from the driver or even the expectant looks from other people on the bus, it was the old lady’s steady stare that defied Leslie not to take it. So, she walked with a squish in her feet from the pooling water at the soles of her shoes over to the lady, thanked her quietly, then walked back a few steps and placed the now wet coins into the slot to the right of the driver. He ripped off a ticket from his stack, and passed it to her. Gripping it tightly in her hand, she shoved it into her pocket and walked to a spot across from the lady, feeling obligated to sit near her. With her face fiery red from embarrassment, she looked squarely at the woman, apparently by the name of Gracey, who had so readily rescued her.
“Thank you, ma’am. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t helped me.”
The old man beside Gracey scowled at her and Leslie, catching the scowl, wondered briefly what had made him so angry about the situation.
“You’d better be careful with that pass, Miss,” Gracey stated to Leslie, ignoring her gratitude, “You’re liable to destroy it in that soaking coat of yours. Unless you don’t need it, then I guess it doesn’t matter, now, does it?”
Looking up at her, Leslie felt like a small child being scolded by her grandmother, and without a word, took it out of her pocket and placed it into her purse carefully. The lady was right, it had already become damp, but thankfully not enough to wipe off any of the data on the paper.
“Thank you. If you hadn’t helped me, I would have been late getting home to my daughter. I don’t know how to repay you.”
Gracey laughed and Leslie was surprised to find it, although somewhat raspy, throaty and full, “I wouldn’t worry about paying me back, Miss, at least not yet.”
Leslie looked at her with a slight sense of unease. What could that possibly mean?
“Well, thank you anyways,” Leslie replied carefully.
The woman nodded at her, and then closed her eyes. Assuming the conversation to be over, Leslie leaned her head back against the hard metal railing lining the seat on which she sat in exhaustion. The day had been a long one, her feet were tired and one of the patrons in her section at the restaurant had thrown up while eating. She thought she still had that sour smell in her nose, even with all the rain, and even thinking about it again made her nauseous. The bus rocked her with its jerky movements, and she bounced her head upon the railing a few times before giving up trying to relax in that way. It didn’t matter anyway, Leslie was too cold to rest and now that her immediate need for a ride home was resolved, she had other things on her mind. As she dwelt upon those things for the next short while, she nearly missed the landmark that was a signal for her to pull the cord over her head. Reaching up, she happened to glance forward to Gracey at the same time. Startled to find the old woman watching her, she tried to smile at her, but it came out stiff and not at all genuine. Nervously, she pulled the cord quickly, grateful to be getting off the bus soon. For some reason, this old woman, with her steady stare, shaking hands, and earlier expressed interest in having Leslie repay the favour, made her more nervous than the man beside her with his instant scowl the moment Leslie looked at him. What once was gratitude Leslie had felt when looking at this lady had now turned into simply wanting to get away from her.
As she stood up to get off the bus, very close to leaving her awkwardness behind her, Leslie noticed the woman crook her finger at her, indicating a desire to have Leslie come closer to her.
“Come here, Missy. I have something for you.”
Reaching a hand towards Leslie, she held a small piece of paper between her fingers. Feeling highly uncomfortable with the situation now, Leslie stepped forward, took it from her hesitantly, and noticed a phone number and address written on it. Leslie looked at Gracey quizzically, unsure of how to respond.
“That is my number and address. I expect to see you there this Saturday at 1 pm on the dot. I did something for you in your need, now you need to do something for me in mine. I expect we’ll both learn a great deal from it. Will I see you there?”
Leslie looked at the woman carefully, as the bus slowed to a stop. Knowing she had only seconds in which to respond, noticing the woman’s earnest gaze now apparent on her face, Leslie nodded slowly, though she rebelled against this feeling of obligation, hating it.
“Bring your daughter,” and noticing the sudden guarded look rise in Leslie’s eyes, she added, “There is no need to be concerned for her, she will be kept quite entertained during your task.”
“Alright,” Leslie replied, completely mystified by this strange request, but not seeing any logical reason to resist, “I’ll bring my daughter.”
As Leslie exited the bus, she could not help but glance back at the woman still seated rigidly beside a scuffed walker, short white hair hanging still somewhat wetly around her cheekbones, and a hand once again in her lap holding onto the well-worn purse, while the other one rested on her male companion’s own hands. The last glimpse of her Leslie had, was of a blissful smile playing on Gracey’s wizened face, as she looked off into the distance, seeing something Leslie could not.
The bus pulled away, and Leslie realized she still had the phone number held tightly in her stubby fingers. Opening it again, she looked it the information with a confused expression, and carefully placed it into her purse, not noticing the continuing rain pelting her cheeks as she went on her way to catch the second bus on her route home.