IT WAS A RAINY morning as I waited at the bus stop for the Metrobus. There was a group of us huddled together, cursing the bad weather and the late bus. Then suddenly it came around the bend. We folded dripping umbrellas and got on. I found a seat next to a very fat woman with a large shopping bag. She pushed it onto the floor to give me a seat. I was glad to sit down even though the shopping bag was pressing against my right leg.
People were reading newspapers. Some were napping, gathering a few last snatches of sleep. Others just sat staring ahead or glumly looking out of the window. It was in general a lethargic group, each person lost in his own world. The bus driver made the customary stops. People got on, some got off, and after a few blocks it became a crowded bus.
Then at one stop, a 30-year-old black man got on. He paid his fare, and proceeded to edge his way through the bus, looking for some space, when from the third row an elderly Jewish woman called out with a heavy accent, "Roger!"
Roger looked toward her and pushed his way over to where she was sitting. People standing nearby moved to make room for him. "How are you, momma?" he asked as he leaned over to kiss her beaming face. She spoke to him mostly in Yiddish with a little bit of English thrown in. She asked him about his family, his wife and child. And to the surprise of all the people on the bus, he answered her in Yiddish. And those few riders who understand the language could see that he was rather fluent.
The woman chided Roger for not calling her for the last few months, and he apologized, saying he was very busy and his work was demanding. He told her they were expecting another child, and she reminded him that she wanted to be considered this child's grandmother since she was already his other child's grandmother. He laughingly agreed. She asked about his wife, and told him a little about her family, and answered all his questions.
Passengers on the bus became engrossed in the conversation. Those who understood Yiddish were able to follow this affectionate meeting. Those who couldn't were amused in some way affected by the warmth and closeness between this young black and the elderly Jewish woman. And Roger, sensing the interest, played to this enthralled audience by speaking only in Yiddish.
At 16th Street Roger had to get off. He and the woman embraced again, and he promised to keep in touch. Then he got off, and she strained to see him as he stepped onto the sidewalk. He saw her, waved and threw her a kiss.
She sat smiling. The bus moved on. There was a silence filled with expectancy. People were looking at the woman. She proudly leaned back in her seat, observing that she was the center of attraction. Since I was sitting close to her, she turned to me and probably noticed my questioning look, and she felt the need to explain about Roger to me and the busload of passengers.
"He's a wonderful person, and so smart," she said, tapping her right temple. I replied, "He speaks such good Yiddish. How come?"
She looked around and saw that all eyes were fastened upon her, waiting for the answer. So in accented English she proceeded to explain, loudly, about Roger.
Roger, as a child, had lived on her street, and was her son's best friend. But one Sunday afternoon both of Roger's parents were killed in an automobile accident, and rather than see Roger go into a foster home she offered to take him to live with her family. "Believe me," she said, "I fought hard to get him. Finally they let me keep him."
So for about five years Roger lived in her home. "Like my own son," she said. And he was so smart, good in school. And to please the old grandmother in the home, he learned to speak Yiddish. He quickly picked up all the expressions. "Better than my own boy, even."
Roger finished high school with honors and went to college. Then he moved away to finish college. "Now he has a good job in the government, and is married to a wonderful girl. I even made for them the wedding reception," she said.
She doesn't see him so often now because he is a very busy man. "A wonderful person, and kind hearted, too," she added with a smile filled with pride.
I was becoming aware that from the busload of isolated riders, each previously involved in his own separate little world, there emerged a feeling of cohesion. People began to smile and look at each other, all tied together by this mutually moving experience. There was a kind of tenderness that took over, and the woman who had her shopping bag resting on my foot now gently moved it toward her and said, "Excuse me. I'll move it out of your way."
"Oh, that's all right," I answered, I, too, falling into the gentle mood of the bus. When people moved to get off the bus, they didn't push, but gently touched each other and were very polite.
Then a well dressed businessman got up to leave, and before stepping off the bus, he turned to the woman and said, "Thank you, madam. You have made my day. Thank you." The bus driver turned around to grin at the passengers, and then with great emphasis honked his horn three times. Everyone laughed,, especially the woman, who covered her face with her hands. The man got off, and the Metrobus proceeded on its way.