On the bus

In our town the number seven bus runs the length of King Street. At the north end of town 7D and 7E converge on the university. These are, naturally, full of students. 7C, however, goes to the mall. Shop assistants, pensioners, people on errands, people killing time, people with small children, people who talk to themselves.

This morning I am myself on an errand, to get a haircut, and I board the mall-bound number seven in front of the town square. I exchange pleasantries with the driver, a small woman with red hair, as I stick my reduced-fare senior’s ticket in the slot.

Just behind me, boarding, are three middle-aged black men, bundled in identical cold-weather kit. Strangers. Bluesmen on a gig at The Jazz Room? Visiting astrophysicists at the Perimeter Institute?

The bus waits here anyway, and this morning it is ahead of schedule. I hear some of the exchange. The men present transfers, and the driver says they are expired and she can’t take them. There is some discussion, in polite tones. The last I hear is the driver saying sorry about that, and I look up to see the three men trudging off up the pavement.

We have still not left the town square. A woman sitting across from me, a thin, intense person, gets up and marches to the front and asks the driver in clear tones if that is not the number of our bus, pointing to a painted sign above the windscreen. The driver says it is. The woman returns to her seat and writes the number, 2647, on the back of an envelope.

She turns to me and asks if I know the time. I fish out my Blackberry and tell her it is 12:22. She writes this on the envelope. King and Bridgeport? she says aloud, looking around, with a note of uncertainty. No, I say, King and Erb. She writes that down as well. I wonder if her agitation has anything to do with the three men. Then the bus pulls away.

It is snowing and the streets are busy. The driver navigates with a fair bit of dash. We lurch forward when she makes a quick stop, from side to side when she veers around obstacles—not at all unpleasantly, in the manner of bus rides. But with each manoeuvre of our driver, however competent and sure-footed, the woman opposite snorts, rolls her eyes, writes down something else.

Half way along our journey, the driver fails to see two young girls running to catch the bus until just past the stop, then skillfully slides into the next available bit of curbside and lets them in. Smiles all around. Except for my agitated neighbour, who finds in this innocent vignette of common urban life fresh reason for outrage, proof of malevolent and perhaps ironic intent, a capstone in her mounting indictment against the driver. Loud gasps of disbelief. Furious scribbling. All the way to the mall.