She sat one seat ahead of me on the bus. She was dressed in comfortable jeans that had seen a million wear-wash-dry cycles. A warm soft sweater. A hoodie. Clogs. Her brownish-red hair was pulled back with a simple rubber band. No makeup that I could see on her pale, freckled face. Glasses. She appeared to be in her early 30s, though everyone will tell you I am a poor judge of age.
Her posture was tired and slumped. Her knees pressed up against the seat in front of her, her feet dangling, her body curled into a comfortable curlycue. She would lean into the window, her cheek pressed against the cool glass, where outside it was raining, pouring, somewhere an old man snoring, oh, no, that’s thunder or the roar of passing traffic.
I know she wasn’t dressed up. I know she was dressed in comfortable, comforting clothes. I could tell she had a bit of the geek in her, a little bit of social misfit. It felt familiar to me. I could look out from my turned-up collar, my lower face shrouded in gray scarf, from eyes shaded from the pale fluorescent light by the brim of my battered baseball cap, and I felt a connection. We were both shielding ourselves from human contact with our unkempt clothing.
I watched her thumb through and occasionally read from a pamphlet on exercise and diet. I wondered if she had just come from a doctor’s office. Was her apparent sadness due to an illness? She did not look overweight to me, even in her oversized clothes. I wanted to say something to her, anything.
I said nothing.
Her stop arrived, one stop before my own. She stood, turned, walked off the bus, and vanished into the gray deluge. The doors closed. The bus continued. I rang the bell.
I stood up… and looking into the seat she had just vacated, there was a white plastic bag, with two bottles just visible inside, one a medicinal green, the other a warm and healthy red. As the bus stopped for me, without a conscious thought, I grabbed the bag, and dove out the door, and ran back towards the other stop.
She was sick, and she left her prescription on the bus! I could find her, and return it to her, and be a hero!
My shoes splashed in the puddles, the rain beat down on me, ran into my eyes… I ran the two blocks back to her stop, the bag dangling from my hand.
She was nowhere to be seen. I looked all directions, but she had gone. Where, I could not tell. I tried a couple of options but no luck.
I walked back to my house. Rain still poured down on me. I had had a story, had seen how it would have been in that instant before grabbing the bag and leaping off the bus. That story did not coalesce. I wondered now if I had actually prevented her from getting her medicine back, rather than helping her find it. Surely she would notice she had left the bag behind, and she would first try to contact Tri-Met, but they would not be able to help her.
In the rain, my brain came up with another story; these were prescriptions, and oftentimes the patient’s name is printed on the labels. Once I got home, I could look her up, and call her to let her know I had saved her medicine, and her health. It was raining hard so I had to wait until I was safely inside and dry.
When I opened the bag, in the warmth of my living room, however, I saw not two bottles of medicine, but a small green bottle of dishwashing soap, and a small red bottle of laundry detergent. No receipt. No identifying information at all.
So that explained why she was wearing her comfy clothes…