Sunday, June 8, 2008

Portrait #16: Lady on Bus who Put Me to Shame

Yesterday, late in the evening, my bus home was quite a bit late. I waited for it for almost half an hour, at the stop right across the street from the city's biggest hospital. By the time it arrived, there were several dozen people thronging to get on. My friends who had been waiting with me recommended I get on at the back and worry about paying my fare later, once the crowd thinned out. So I did that.

Most of the seats were taken, but since I had a long ride ahead of me I decided to try for one. I went up to a little boy who was sitting in an aisle seat with the window seat next to him empty. He said the other seat was taken. Across from him was a little girl standing guard at another empty seat. Then I came to an elderly woman, also sitting in the aisle seat while the window seat remained unoccupied.

"Can I sit there?" I asked.

She looked up at me and didn't quite smile but wasn't frowning either. "I guess I can stand up," she said.

I looked at her and then at the empty seat and then back at her, "I mean, Is that seat taken?"

She waved at the seat and then moved to get out of my way, so I inched in past her. When I sat down, she started explaining to me something about someone who had leg problems and couldn't stay standing. If she hadn't gestured for me to take the seat, I would have thought she was saving it for a patient being discharged from the hospital.

But I wasn't sure what to do until an elderly man, probably her husband, emerged from the mini-mob of people paying their fares. The woman immediately stood up and told him to take her seat. At this point, I realised that she didn't want to make him stand up and so was willing to stand herself. Of course, I couldn't leave an elderly woman standing while I enjoyed my window seat, there is a certain etiquette about these things!, so I got up to vacate the seat. But she insisted. Both seats remained empty as I urged her and her husband to sit, and she urged me to sit, and her husband just stood there looking confused. Finally, a young man from the row behind us stood up and offered me his seat, so I could bow out gracefully, in awe of this woman who loved her husband so much and who cared for a young strange woman so much to stand up herself in a crowded bus - even though she was the first one there.

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