Transit Souls is a blog inspired by the beautiful people of St. Louis. Every day I ride the St. Louis Metro Bus to work, and every day I encounter fresh faces with stories to tell. These people will always be a mystery to me – I’ll never know where they got their scars and wrinkles – but I feel that in my transitional moments with them I sometimes catch a glimpse of the hidden glory.
The bus came alive with spectacle today when a hyperactive pre-teen hopped aboard and dragged with him a glacial mass of a man. The two of them were engaged in hand-to-hand combat as they boarded the bus; the great man fumbled through his billfold as the tiny one tried – need I say without result – to snatch his bus pass. The kid then proceeded to throw punches at the man’s giant blueberry of a torso. The man’s eyelids fluttered with annoyance and his petulant lips murmured disapproval, but the great inertia that was his body merely took two seats for itself as if the boy wasn’t there.
The kid darted about, flying punches at the great water buffalo with taunts and jeers. He touched the stoic face with a jabbing finger, and suddenly the three-hundred pounds shifted weight to face the boy.
Slap, crack, OW!
The boy’s ineffective retorts were deflected by his massive paw, and then the tiny wrists found themselves in a meaty fisted handcuff.
“Ya cut it, man,” grunted the buffalo. Always his lids were half shut, his head titled slightly up, and his lips barely parted, as if he was about to take a nap.
“C’mown, bra. Jus’ settle down a sec.”
“Betchacantgetme, pow POW, betchacantgetm—ow, OWW! Child abuse! Haha, oh, OUCH – CHILD ABUSE HERE!”
“Naw, man, that’s not cool.”
“Is this man hurtin’ you,” the bus driver was obliged to ask, although he didn’t sound the least worried.
“Yes, yes, he’s picking on me! Pick on someone your own size!” The gnat continued to buzz. The buffalo’s face twitched with annoyance.
“That your son?” asked the driver.
“Naw, not my kid. He my nephew.”
“He abusin’ me!” the kid screamed with a giggle as his own punches landed softly in quivering blubber.
The buffalo shifted weight away from his antagonist, then when the gnat kept stinging, lumbered across the aisle to a more distant seat. He grazed in peace for one small but essential moment.
After a minute the gnat buzzed across the aisle too, looking for more sport.
“Pow POW! Pow POW! Ahhh…. HELPPP!”
Enough was enough. The water buffalo reared his head at last and rose from his seat like a surfacing iceberg. The bus darkened. The seats rumbled. With a half-sincere whimper, the gnat stopped his buzzing.
Soon he would resume his torment no doubt, and fill the bus with hit-and-runs, stinger ops, and every manner of guerilla warfare. In the meantime the water buffalo began to chew his cud, his eyes slowly dipping to half-mast.
When the homeless man tumbled onto the bus, people began to shift in their seats. Suddenly entitled handbags were seated in the open chairs, and half-empty benches were full of standoffishness.
He was a drunk. At first you couldn’t smell it, but later the sweet aroma of Jameson and gastric juices made the air feel wet. He talked like his mouth was full of marbles and gravel, or maybe it was pop rocks and warheads, although he didn’t look like he got so much as candy to eat.
One moon-faced woman sat with quiet contentment, hands folded over an upright umbrella. She peered through slitted eyes at the spectacle with the strangest perma-smile the world has ever seen.
When Mr. Jameson stepped past her, there was a shout, a scuffle, and in an instant he was fallen to the ground and cursing. Clumsy drunk! But I saw the whole thing, and the lynx-eyed woman tripped him! Indelicately her foot shot out, and indelicately he tumbled headfirst to the ground. It was like a scene from a grade school cafeteria.
He turned and looked at her with “what the fuck” written as clear as day in his misty eyes. She just smiled with utter self-content. Her intentions couldn’t have been anything but malicious, but she matched his befuddlement with light bemusement. It was a third-grader’s smile behind her eyes.
“Whaassathatrrryadid? Whattssa yadothatferrrr? Hey busdrivrrrr, is thrrr a liqurrr store up ahead? Godzdamn?”
Her lips barely moved. “At least I didn’t miss the AA meeting last night,” was all she said.
The drunk shambled to the back of the bus, and the jester’s head turned side to side like a slow-motion sprinkler, watering the world with a smirk.
Anyone who wields “horse faced” as an insult has clearly never seen a horse, and the queen in the window seat of aisle three was the irrefutable proof. Was it some birth defect, some eccentric fusing of the skull that lent her such an elongated profile? She struck me like those Burmese women whose necks have been slowly elongated ring by ring, torture by torture. Was it nature that added the rings and drew her face like a cumulonimbus? Maybe to her it was a burden – although her lightning eyes betrayed no such insecurity – but to me her face was the source of awe entirely estranged from fear. Her face was a cliff of soft stone, a towering monument to her dignity, a royal diadem chiseled into her very visage. Her brow was a permanent promontory of royalty, her nose an aquiline bulwark of majesty. She was without equal in the mass of transiters, and her triumphant face held poise above the crowd like a sentinel. She was a living palace, a steadfast lighthouse, a wonder of the world. And all who looked on her looked quickly away, too humbled by her high station.