In truth there is no shortage of characters on my bus route. I have written about the ballerina, the balloon carrier, the two fisted energy drinker and dozens of others. They were somewhat mysterious and invigorating. Others, like the shouting woman and the obnoxiously loud couple recently released from jail, I have not found a way of capturing with enough sympathy to make them worthy of reading about. They would be merely caricatures, rather than real believable people.
Today, I think, I find myself in the middle of both of these literary worlds. I seek to describe someone who may be hard to believe, and also causes me some distraction for the implications of her behaviour and our response to it.
I boarded the bus, not unlike countless mornings before. It was the older of the two bus models, meaning there were no single seats for me to sit in and I risked later sharing my bench with a whole host of uncomfortable people. Nevertheless, I took the one to the left, which would afford me the better view of storefronts and eventually the railway tracks. To my left sat a diminutive woman slightly bent over a book. She was dark skinned and dark haired, though I suspected her hair should be quite grey.
I paid only a little attention to her as I was either absorbed in my book or quietly meditating on something positive (a bus ride is a good place for this). I probably wondered what book she was reading, if only because I am always looking for book recommendations, but left it at that. I might have forgotten her entirely if not for what followed.
I wasn’t looking at her, but I could hear her saying something. It was indistinct and I thought that she might be speaking softly on the phone. Though this is rare; speaking softly on the phone, not talking on the phone–you’d be amazed at how little privacy people require when talking on the phone in a public place. It is shocking really. I digress.
I glanced over to confirm my phone hypothesis, and discovered she was not on the phone. Her fingers were following something in the book she was reading. It had a rather solemn tone and I guessed she was reading from a book of scripture. It was barely audible, but the woman sitting in front of her changed seats across the aisle to sit in front of me.
Suddenly, she looked up from the book and started singing. At first it had the same low hum from the moment before. In time, however, the volume grew and we made our way to the next stop. The volume continued to grow. The voice was not continuous and strong, but scratchy and grating. The lyrics rather repetitive. I was impressed by the power of her faith that made her want to share this…but it wasn’t that pleasant an experience.
I could imagine a whole gospel choir bursting into song on the bus. There are probably hundreds of fantastic examples on YouTube, but this wasn’t going to be one of them. This was going to grate on me the whole trip if she could sustain it. I searched for my headphones and was already mentally picking something that could counter this–Velvet Underground, Metallica, Public Enemy…early Zeppelin…..Evanescence….
I could see the strain on some of the other passengers, but like myself, no one said anything. It got me to thinking, would the people have been so willing to put up with this if it were done by someone of a non-Christian faith? Would we have been so willing to endure it if it had been someone reading from the Koran in a loud voice? Those are tough questions, and I can hope that our legendary tolerance would prevail and the bus wouldn’t be swarmed by a “tactical police team” but I could imagine other scenarios of confrontation. Granted it was music….musical, but I am not sure the reaction would have been the same. There was definite tension, but nobody approached her to reproach her (a little internal rhyme for this piece).
She got off a few stops later and the tension in the bus seemed to ease.