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Metro Bus 17
Metro Bus 17. The bus that came to the station on time, every day. Driver: Claudia Flemmings, a kind old black woman who gave me five bucks a few years back.
It was a bit odd for an eighteen year old like myself to be living at a bus station, or right outside of it. I should have been in school, becoming a doctor or lawyer or dentist or at least a trashy white rapper. But I had run away from my tiny hometown in Texas to live big here, in the Big Apple.
Long story short, the money ran out and stress was too much. I bought a sleeping bag with the last of the cash and picked out a cozy refrigerator box I found in a dumpster.
Life could have been worse. I could have not had any friends. But if you’ve ever been to New York, you’d know there are virtually homeless people crawling all over the place.
Ted was a good guy. A druggie, an alcoholic, and a chronic pain in the butt, Ted was a mess himself. But he was astonishingly loyal. He would talk to you and listen to what you had to say and offered the best advice I had ever heard. He even fancied himself a fortune teller, though his gray beard and matted hair scared people off before he could spit their futures out at them.
But even Ted couldn’t predict my encounter with HER…
I woke up on that Friday morning at six. I woke up promptly every day so I could snag the good side of the bus station for begging. I washed my face and hair in the public restroom and gave myself a ‘hobo’ bath (don’t ask), then sprayed a bit of cheap cologne over myself (I was by far the most hygienic hobo that side of the city).
As I settled down, waiting for the rush, a woman walked by. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t look up at people in the face. It makes them feel uncomfortable. I know. I used to be one of them. But this time, my jaw arched forward and my gray eyes flicked up.
She had long golden hair that hung to her waist in intricate waves. Her purple cinched in dress waved in the breeze. She clung to a leather tote bag with a huge peace symbol on it.
I caught her staring back at me and noticed her soft green eyes, freckled nose, and tiny pink lips. She hurried onto 17. My cup fell out of my hand. I was in love.
“Love don’t happen like that.” Growled Ted, lighting a cigarette and counting the spare change he had gathered at the end of the day. I curled my battered Converse’s up under my legs and sighed. “Love takes time.”
How Ted would have known, I didn’t know. But I held on to some foolish fantasy for the next twenty four hours. She would come back, give me some money, then we would talk and she would love me and I would love her and I could… offer her nothing. I was nothing.
The next day, there was an odd spring to my step as I fought another dude sitting in my spot. I waited, thumping my hands against my knees nervously when she showed up again. Her hair was free and flowing, like liquid sunshine even in the fluorescent lighting. Her boots silently slapped at the sidewalk and her green sweater hugged her curves slightly. My breathing got harder.
She paused in front of me. I ashamedly put my cracked mug down. I didn’t need her money. I needed her.
A thin, fragile hand placed a twenty into my palm before I realized what had happened.
The next day, it was another twenty. After a week of twenty dollar bills, I got the courage to reach out and take her arm. Gently, I tugged at it.
Her eyes widened in fright, then settled back.
I produced all the bills she had given me. “Keep them.” I smiled, thanking the good Lord I had a tooth brush.
“But don’t you need the money?” Her angelic face twisted into confusion. I shook my head.
I released her arm and jumped back in shock as she sat down beside me on the cold pavement, using her bag as a cushion. She smiled at me, I grinned at her and I surrendered my soul to Zena Francis.