This morning, I was barely awake. I had only the mind to stand and watch my breath flow out from my lips and nostrils with each exhale. It looked just like downtown, when the smoke rises in its gracefully ugly way out and over the highway from the three giant smokestacks looming above the power station. I remember now thinking about how odd it seemed that at one point, I could be outside and forget that I was even breathing; now my breaths rushed around my face and hung there like some kind of nebulous scarf to remind me of them before drifting away into the oblivion of what it is to be waiting outside at 7:28 on a December morning. At the back of my mind, though, my thoughts were trained on the bus, which should have been three minutes and seventeen seconds away at that point. From the moment my boot crunched the snow underfoot as I closed my front door this morning, my mind had gone straight to when I would step into the warmth of the bus.
I could tell she was thinking about it too: the older woman standing next to me with her hands shoved so deep in her pockets, I thought she might pull them clean off. Unlike me, she wore no backpack, but rather the same plain brown pocketbook that I see slid across her torso every morning. She wore no jeans, but rather the faded blue ankle-length skirt that makes an appearance at least three times each week (she must like it more than the other one she wears, which is white and can be spotted only one or two mornings out of every five). She wore no snow boots, but rather the familiar, soiled white New Balance high-tops that carry her from around the corner at the end of the block to where we both stand at the bus stop every morning at 7:28.
I don’t know her name, but I know she always glances at a small watch on her right wrist to make sure the bus hasn’t already come as she sidles slowly to her daily station, several paces from where I myself stand. Often I wonder why it is that she tales the bus: where does she go after she gets off? Did she ever drive there instead, when she was younger? Does she still come in the summer, on the hot, heavy days when I’m still fast asleep long after 7:28 has come and gone? Where is she on the rare mornings when I stand alone at the bus stop? I don’t know. But I do know that I could hear her jaw chattering every so faintly this morning. She must’ve been thinking about the bus. It was too cold to think of anything else.
There are others I see every morning, as well. Many have old briefcases hanging from their fists and bags hanging from their eyes, staring dully and silently out the window as the bus whisks us all through the damp and tired streets of Providence, which is just waking up on a December weekday. Some are buried in blazers or winter jackets too big for them. Nobody there is fancy; many mornings the sickly sweet odor of cigarette smoke and body odor from them curl past me while I make my way sleepily to my friends’ seats. In fact, we’re probably the fanciest ones there, with our new backpacks, skinny jeans, and snow boots. But it really makes no difference who is fancy and who is not, because all any of us could think of this morning was the three minutes and seventeen seconds between us and the inviting heater overhead on the bus.
I guess I must have pondered this for quite some time this morning as I stood there, watching my cloud-like breath and listening to my stop-mate’s teeth clicking together quickly and quietly. I glanced down what must have been three minutes and seventeen seconds later and saw the bus pulling up in front of us, ready to welcome us into the warmth. The woman looked at me for the first time all morning. I gestured for her to get on before me, and she nodded gratefully. After all, we’re both getting on the same bus. Snow boots or tennis shoes, we’re headed to the same place.