"Good morning, young lady!" the driver welcomed me on board. He was a nice looking man. Seeming to be in his mid-forties, short (for a man), about 5’6”, but nicely built. His smile was alluring and while I was running late for work, I couldn’t help but notice it when I entered the bus.
"Good morning, sir. Thanks for stopping for me. I couldn’t afford to be late today. It’s Friday, therefore its payday. I don’t need to give anyone a reason to hold my check," I responded while trying to recuperate from flagging him down. Even after all of the manual work I had to do daily, a little jog for one block could wear a girl down.
"Anytime. I remember your face. I've seen you on here before," he responded with a smile. I placed my dollar and coins in the payment receptacle, turned to him and nodded in appreciation.
As I placed my bags in the seat next to me, I conversed with the driver. "So, what time is quitting time for you?"
Looking at me through his rear view mirror, the older gentleman responded, "Well, I'll be done when the streets are dim and almost clear. My job here seems to never be done."
"I understand. Where I work, there seems to never be a duty complete. I start at 9 a.m., but I don't leave until almost 7 p.m. There's got to be something special about us hard workers," I responded smiling.
"What is your line of work, if you don't mind me asking, 'mam?" he continued.
"I work out in the county for the Washburn’s. You know they're the family that owns the dry cleaning and laundry facilities around town. I do most of the house work and run some of their errands. I look after their four daughters after school. And when they vacation, I watch the house," I told him as I looked at my watch to see how much longer before my stop.
"Well, sounds like we're both in the field of helping others. My job is so often not seen in that light, though. It's a service like any other!" he continued. He was a pleasant driver, unlike some of the previous drivers of that route. We continued our light conversation about general topics such as the weather up until we made it to my exit. "Looks like we've made it to your destination, 'mam."
A little reluctant to end the conversation, I gathered my things, smiled, and began towards the doors of the bus to exit. "I really do appreciate the ride this morning, sir. Most of the time, my bus ride is never as pleasant as the one I just had. I hope they don't switch up the routes on you and your coworkers soon. You can tell them that was a customer request!" I thanked him. My comments about the pleasantry of the ride were genuine and hopefully were not taken out of context.
"I will do 'mam. How far do you have to walk?" he inquired.
"Oh, just about five blocks east and then two blocks until I reach the corner at Mable Lane." I responded.
"Well, I tell you what, since I don't have many riders this morning, why don't you let me drop you off right in front of your location?" he insisted.
"I'm not sure that's really necessary. Thank you though. Plus I could use a little exercise," I responded pointing to my stomach as I began to exit the bus. I did pick up on his attempt to extend his services, but I didn't want to jeopardize his job or mine.
"I insist, 'mam. I won't open the door until you return to your seat," he responded with a stern and insistent stare.
"Ok. Ok. Please hurry so I won't be late," I agreed. As I returned to my seat, slightly perturbed, I saw that he wore a gold, wedding band, but thought nothing of it at the time. He took my words to heart because we made it to the Washburn's house within a few minutes flat. I shook his hand as thank you and exited the bus.
Looking back at the driver as I reached the foot of the half of a mile driveway, he yelled, "My name is Charlie, 'mam!" I shook my head to show I heard what he was saying and began my fast pace to the front door. I assumed he wasn’t seeking my name in response. Although I enjoyed the conversation, I was not in the frame of mind to "figure out" or entertain his intentions.
The workday at the Washburn's was pretty normal. In the morning, I washed all the clothes, cleaned the first and second floor bathrooms, and mopped all the hardwood and marble floors. By afternoon, I’d wiped down all the china and wood, cleaned out the stainless steel refrigerators, and ironed all four of the children's clothing for two weeks. As I prepared to leave I felt the end of the day begin to weigh in on my feet. The calluses weren’t letting up and I had to walk seven blocks, back to the bus stop, and from the bus ride four more blocks to my house.
The motivation to sit in my new brown leather recliner I purchased for my birthday helped me muster up the strength to begin my walk. Not sure if I would call it my luck, but about a block and a half into my walk, a bus pulled up alongside me. I wasn’t sure why the bus was there, but I soon found that it was Charlie attempting to pick me up. Relieved and perplexed, I without hesitance entered the bus when he opened the door. I began to pull out the bus fare, but he tapped my hand as I reached inside my cream and brown Gucci tote bag the Washburn’s gave me last Christmas.
“Now, Miss…” he began looking as if he was awaiting me to fill in my name.
To keep the drive going, I answered, “Nylene”.
Presenting an even larger smile, he continued, “I like that. Ok, Miss Nylene, where to?”
“Home,” I answered with the biggest sigh I could release, “The fastest route to Pathrona Dr. and Crumple Street. I can walk from there.”
“Ok. Your wish is my command. Home we go!” he responded. After relaxing my head against the ironic pain medicine advertisement, I opened my eyes to realize no one else was on the bus.
“Where are the other patrons?” I inquired. It was just six thirty. They didn’t stop operations for another hour.
Without turning back or making eye contact, he answered, “I took my last patron about ten minutes ago, Miss Nylene. I know what I’m doing, so don’t worry about that.” I just smirked and began looking out the window. I realized we were about eight to ten minutes away from my stop.
“I really do appreciate you doing this for me, Charlie. I was having a tough day today. My struggle just seems to never end,” I began to vent to him.
“Well, it wasn’t really a big deal. You gave me all the information I needed earlier today. I knew what time you usually worked. I knew where you worked. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you what I saw,” he began. “I saw a beautiful, middle-aged, woman with six heavy bags, worn shoes, with a stressed brow. Yet, the spirit I felt from you let me know that I needed to help out this strong woman however I could. I couldn’t watch you make that walk knowing I had the ability to make it shorter. I couldn’t go home to my family tonight knowing that I could have helped a good spirit make it safely home to enjoy her space with a lighter heart hopefully. My spirit wouldn’t have allowed it, Miss Nylene. That’s what I saw. While all I gave you today was a ride in a bus with air condition and slightly comfortable seating, I hoped that it was all a part of your journey. The gesture was small, yet a part of your walk,” he ended. We had arrived at my stop. There was still a little light from the sunset. Just enough for me to make it to my two bedroom apartment safely.
“Well, I thank you for what you saw, Charlie. I thank you,” I responded as I extended my hand to his.
Before I could release his hand from mine, he pulled me back, “Miss Nylene, as long as I drive this route, you’re guaranteed a ride to and from work on me. And it doesn’t matter if there are other ‘patrons’ on the bus. Ok?” he reassured me. I walked away from that bus feeling renewed.
I’m glad I rode the bus this morning. I feel like a new strength has been given to me. It’s amazing how small blessings are packaged. This morning I reluctantly got up, faced my burdened life head on and ran into the inspiration I needed. What I thought was a handsome, married man possibly attempting to hit on me, actually turned out to be a part of the plan. Maybe the catch to living life is that you will never really know. However, it seems that remaining steadfast and hopeful leads to the coverage required. I’ll no longer look at life as the wrapping it comes in, but by the gift that it actually possesses.
And for the record: I can’t wait for the ride tomorrow.