Just the other morning the strangest thing happened on the city bus. I take the 541 Express downtown to work every morning and get on at one of the first stops when the bus is nearly empty. On this particular day I step on and sit in an empty seat as usual. I pop in my ear buds for some morning pick-me-up tunes and open a trashy fashion magazine. Needless to say I am happy as can be for 6:15 in the morning.
At the very next stop a block or so away a few people sleepily climb onto the bus. I don’t pay much attention to any of them until one plops down in the empty seat next to me. Now, this doesn’t seem like it would be any big deal considering it is a public city bus, but seriously? The entire bus is nearly empty, and you’d prefer to practically sit on my lap in that particular seat? Well, alright then. I smile at her warily and decide not to care.
The not-caring thing lasts about three minutes during which this woman pulls out a black washcloth- not a dainty little hankie or a tissue, but a full on bathroom wash cloth- and starts to mop her face and neck. As little droplets of her sweat plop onto my arms into the seat next to her, she also begins to cough. Again, not a dainty little throat clearing, but a total I-may-die-of-tuberculosis-in-the-next-fifteen-minutes cough. As she rattles on with her coughing and sweat mopping, I weigh my options.
Option one is to sit there quietly and pretend that I might not be catching a deadly disease at that very moment. This would be the nicest option for my seat-mate, but not the wisest for my well-being.
Option two is to get the hell away from her before she keels over on my lap and I end up having to make a statement on television. My sense of survival takes over, and at the last stop before the freeway I quietly and without any fanfare get up and move to a seat away from her.
I’m starting to feel relieved and comfortable as the bus picks up speed and gets going on its way when the woman starts to rummage around in her enormous bag for her cell phone. I’m still only partially paying attention as she dials and starts talking. All of a sudden the questionably ill woman turns around in her seat to face me and begins bellowing into her cell phone.
She says, “And then this PRECOCIOUS BITCH decides she’s too good to sit next to me and moves to another seat!”
All eyes in our area the bus turn to look at me as I sit open-mouthed and gaping at her in total shock. The man next to me starts to laugh under his breath and people enjoy the moment for a bit before the woman turns back around in her seat and continues her conversation at a more appropriate volume.
I spent the rest of the bus ride downtown feeling bad for this woman and thinking that I might have truly offended her. I go over and over my actions in my mind. Did my face give away the total lack of disgust I was feeling? Could I possibly have handled the situation in a different way?
I get off the bus awkwardly trying not to look at the woman as I pass her and hit the pavement still ruminating when my mind starts to change in a different direction. Really? If you are so sick that you are sweating buckets onto the poor soul next to you on the bus, can you really blame them for moving to less contaminated and drier ground? Um…no, you cannot. I did the right thing for my health and comfort and no longer feel bad for the woman in any way.
Now I get on the bus in the morning and see the man who laughed that day and he says to me, “Hey, PB. How’s it going?” I do not know his name, and he does not know mine. Between us I am the “Precocious Bitch from Express Bus 541.”