Friday afternoon I got to the bus stop and saw that there were at least a dozen people there already. This did not bode well and while Next Bus had said there would be a bus in five minutes, it took another twenty minutes for the 22 to show up. It was, of course, already completely packed. I stood in the back holding on to the back of a seat. I am just not tall enough to reach the hanging straps or the bar that runs just below the ceiling.
The bus emptied a little at Mission Street and I slid in to one of the rear-facing seats. The seat was damp with sweat from the man who had just vacated it. I pretended not to notice.
I had my headphones on and was listening to a repeat episode of Radio Lab when I saw Carmen sitting down in the seat across from me.
"Carmencita," I said, taking off the headphones, the sunglasses.
She slapped my knee and said, "Hello! It has been forever!"
We caught up on our summers: my trip East to school, her trip to South America with her family.
At Church Street a teenage boy slumped into the seat next to me. Typical baggy clothes, sideways cap, gigantic high top
sneakers with florescent laces.
Something happened while Carmen and I talked and laughed, and gently nudged each other with our feet. The teenager sitting next to me started talking to us, and he turned out to be a really sweet, nice kid.
"My Grandma up in Sacramento cleans houses and is saving for me to go to college," he told us, after Carmen mentioned a continuing ed. class she had taken at City.
"Wow," I said. "That's great."
"She is so nice," Carmen said.
The boy nodded at Carmen. "You kinda remind me of her, except you're younger," he told her. "Cause she's from El Salvador and she's always trying to get me to talk to her in Spanish but I really can't speak it." He shook his head. "I can say, like, Abuela
and stuff, but that's it."
Somehow Carmen and the kid got to talking about when he was little and his Grandma would chase him and his brothers around the house when they were bad, and hit them with her belt. Carmen nodded and said, "It's because she's very traditional."
The boy laughed. "Yeah, we used to put pillows in our pants so when she hit us we didn't feel it."
"We used to do that, too," Carmen said.
As the bus neared Geary
I asked her where she was getting out. "Jackson," she said.
"I'll ride with you," I said. Even though it was several blocks out of my way. I didn't mind, it had been so long since we last saw each other, and we still had a lot to talk about.
The kid was getting out there, too.
"On your way home, or to work?" Carmen asked him.
"Nah," he said, waiting for us on the sidewalk. "Going to see my Grandma."