One of the ways in which I got immersed or should I say became familiar with the place was by randomly jumping on a bus to somewhere new. By doing this I concluded about the places I wouldn’t live or visit, and also found some spots I would love to revisit. I stopped doing it however as I felt more comfortable with my surroundings, and too, I didn’t have the energy to do that after a while…….and outside of that there is always the taxi.
Yesterday, I decided to go watch a movie on the north side, but it was not to be. I spent all day riding the bus around areas that I thought I wouldn’t go back. However, it wasn’t the bus ride that got to me, it was the characters I encountered as I traipsed about.
Firstly, I approached the train chatting on my phone…….on entering I noticed a gent on the other side of the aisle. Somehow he didn’t seem okay and I was right. The moment I got off the phone, I only heard…………”St. Lucia” “St. Kitts”, “Antigua”?…… I looked around, he was looking straight at me. He was trying to guess the origin of my accent…….I shook my head in the negative and he didn’t stop until he said “Jamaica”…… I nodded affirmatively, but without giving him my attention. Somehow I am afraid of people like this . Obviously, he gets bored easily as he started the process all over again with the lady behind me……..”Guyana”….. ” India” No one gave him the time of day. As more people came on the train, everyone avoided the seats beside him (maybe people know who to avoid), and when he could take it no more, I heard him say…….”I don’t bite”….. it was then that a guy sat across from him, to his delight. He started a conversation promptly and the lad was most engaging, that made him smile. I exited the train so I have no idea how that progressed. I didn’t realize at that time it was the beginning of a very strange day.
I took another train, and as I was running off the platform I saw the bus I wanted exiting the bus station……darn I thought, I would have a 30 min wait. I found a seat in open air as I was not going to go inside the station. This area was renown for all kinds of characters. The first one to come and sit beside me was a white guy who looked as spaced out as can be……and of course he was antsy. Not a good sign……I held my breath and decided not to get up. Luckily he didn’t stay long, but no sooner had he left than another gent/lady (I cannot be sure which), took his place. I tried my best not to stare. The bus came……I breathed, but only for a second as the bus was filled with more peoole than I was accustomed to seeing on any bus on the south side.
It suddenly occurred to me that the city keeps the bus system viable because of bus routes like these, and certainly not those on my side of town. I became grateful for these bus routes filled to capacity with people; people who had no choice but to take the bus or people who took the bus as a form of solace and or to break the monotony. It was the first time too I saw so many strollers, wheelchairs and older people on the bus……I knew which side of town I was on, without a doubt. I then thought about the bus drivers on these routes…….were they scared? Did they choose these routes? Did they have security at nights? Did they enjoy their job? And there were female drivers too on these routes? ………was I over reacting? Did I become acclimatized to a culture where I let my guard down, already? Was I scared back home? Why am I scared now? But then I remember that back home I lived deep rural and I drove to most places……..I didn’t take the bus in the most volatile areas…….
Suffice to say, I was now in two minds about the movie……And then when I saw the busstop that I should exit the bus, to get to this movie…..I stayed on the bus. I would have to see this movie another time. I was surprised that I wasn’t berating myself or felt like it was a wasted trip…..I instead chose to focus on what I was experiencing……nothing is wasted. I arrived at the next bus station…….I would wait on another bus to take me back from whence I came. It came on time and again it was crowded……..this time though as I waited and watched be people who were waiting as well, I could see the despair on more than a few faces. At that moment I wish I was Bruce Almighty…….
The worst part of all this is that I saw kids in the midst of this hopelessness and it suddenly occurred to me, like it was occurring to me more regularly these days…….that hope is a very powerful element of our lives. Hope must never die………how can I build and encourage hope in others? The houses I saw were dilapidated, dirty and surrounded by the same non-descript and decrepit buildings. The mothers I saw were inhaling large and frequent doses of something through those mechanical pipes, shouting at the kids for no apparent reason, had piercings at some weird visible places…… children live what they learn. I was filled with sadness when I saw what they were learning. “Did these kids even go to church?” I asked myself. I was happy to leave the scene and I am not proud to say that, because all I saw around me was a plea for help, even if there would be no acknowledgement of that. Many times along the way, I wondered where I was. “The disparity between the rich and the poor is apparent and is widening”, that is something we hear so often. Well, I saw it too yesterday and I am not in a developing country.
By now I realized I need to go grocery shopping……I needed to get back to my side of town quickly. Needless to say I stayed on the bus rather than take the train……..it took another 30 mins to cross the river and get to my next bus station and there was no shortage of characters on this bus either. The very ebrieated lady who spoke so loudly and with a healthy mix of expletives, so much so that the little boy sitting with his grandmother (I assume), directly behind her looked at his grandma for permission to hear. She had told the driver she wanted a ride, and then had asked where the bus was going………… But also in the mix of yesterday were the moments of light too, those times when we see the beauty of humanity.
Such as was seen on this same bus when the lady in the motorized wheelchair could not manoveur her way on (even though two gents tried valiantly to lift her and her chair). This was made difficult because of the debris on the pavement, caused from the road construction. The bus driver being very patient drove to a more accessible location to accommodate her. The other passengers walked with her to that location and waited until she came on and maneuvered herself into the space in the bus reserved for her. Then the other lady who was travelling with her paraplegic daughter, made space for her too. The funny thing is she kept saying ” I am sorry”…… she said it to the bus driver, to those waiting to get on the bus with her and to the lady who made space for her, and the look on her face as she came in the bus, told me she was saying the same thing to us too. I hoped my face was asking her what she was sorry for…….as there is nothing to be sorry about…..asssuming she was even looking at me. The thing is tha her situation can easily become our fate at any time……..we should be ashamed of ourselves if we needed an apology. A kindly lady who was waiting for the bus with her, was sweet enough to tell her how brave and efficient she was at handling herself……..those are the reasons I still have faith in humanity.
As we trudged across the bridge and I was consumed in thought about the reasons why the high barriers were erected on either side, my thoughts were interrupted by a white Rastafarian…….I had never seen one before. He came on and went to the back and I would have forgotten about him had it not being for monologue I heard just a little too loudly, coming from the back of the bus. ” Why are my kids not talking to me, don’t they think I have feelings? Don’t they think I want to see my grandkids?”…….. I was moved with sadness once more, as I thought about all the pain and hurt in our world. The rest of that journey was uneventful. As the bus parked back on familiar turf, I breathed a sigh of relief……….It was then that I realized how much I was holding my breath.
I had one more bus to take to the grocery store……I could walk there but everything just made me tired. I found my bus………I had a five minute wait. I noticed her eyes piercing mine and for some insane reason I kept her gaze. She came and sat directly behind me……..I felt very uncomfortable. Why was this no more than 21 year old girl who smelled of too much marijuana sitting directly behind me? Normally, I would have not even noticed, but sixth sense or the Holy Spirit told me to pay Attention. I moved over, she moved too. I got up and went to a different seat, she came and sat beside me, I was scared stiff and I didn’t know what to do. Imagine, of all the rides thus far today, why was this happening now and on seemingly safe territory. I decided I would not give her the time of day………I sat still and turned away…..either that worked or she was too high to stay in one place she soon found a different target. That lady moved too and she followed. It wasn’t long before others came on the bus, she started doing the same thing with them…..five minutes can be a long time in these instances. Then just as the bus was ready to leave she exited and found her way on the other bus that had just arrived and parked in front of ours. As we drive away I saw her entering the bus as innocently as she had entered ours……no doubt holding another person’s gaze and starting her shenanigans. I began wondering about her………where were her parents? How did she get involved in drugs? Would she roam the streets all day? Where would she end up tonight? What is her motive? Is she seeking to steal from someone or maybe she isn’t even aware of what she was doing?
Drugs, alcohol, mental illness, poverty, abandonment, despair, anger suffering and pain………..they are all around us. Can we close our eyes to it? What if it comes home, what then? How much do we take on, how close do we get before it consumes us too? But do we have a choice? Are we not supposed to be our brother’s keeper? Marcus Garvey famoulsy said ……..injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…..and Edmund Burke puts it rather bluntly…..” the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to sit and do nothing”. We live in a broken world, so it follows that we are all broken in one way or another, maybe not equally but broken just the same. Had it not been for the Grace of God where would I be? I can look back at all the various options I could have taken, and all the other choices that were made for me, that led me to where I am today. As I write this I think of this hymn
I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship, Should set His love upon the sons of men,
Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers, To bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that He was born of Mary, When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home,
And that He lived at Nazareth and labored, And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.
As I write this Hurricane Irma is ravaging Florida, Hurricane Harvey has destroyed Texas, there was a 8.2 earthquake in Mexico, fires are raging the west and a whole other host of disasters are being experienced around the world. Let’s pray!!!!!