Pirate’s ears

Long day, long week. I sat on the bus, texting Tracy and surfing on my iPhone.

My peripheral vision picked up a feminine shape holding a midget pink-colored shape and by automatic response I looked up.

Mom was dressed in a warm navy wool coat and jeans, my height or a bit shorter, hair so red it was nearly black and pulled back into a practical short ponytail with a clip.

The pink bundle was a toddler, dark curly hair and dark eyes that appeared to take up a third of her face, the rest puffy cheeks, all wrapped in pink vinyl speckled with cartoon kittens.

Mom set the pink bundle down, and momentarily our eyes met. I smiled, shyly, and looked back at the screen in my hands. I could not tell if mom smiled back, so quickly did I glance away.

The little girl sat quietly, making sounds that may have been words or may have been nonsense, but not making them loudly or constantly. Just occasional cute interjections, punctuated by chubby hand gestures that may have been waving or may have been pointing. The mom just sat there, in front of me, looking around, content. Sometimes as the bus moved and turned, mom put her arm out, resting her hand against the window sill, forming a human safety belt to keep the baby girl in her seat.

I noticed that mom had no wedding ring on her hand.

I should say something, the voice in my head said. I asked what, and the voice said, Anything. Hello. Whatever.

The bus rolled on.

I noticed that mom wore two earrings in her left ear, presumably matching the pair in the right ear, out of my sight. One, a large elliptical silver hoop, the other, a small round black disk. The disk was emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.

Pardon me, the voice suggested, your earrings. The pirate ones. I like them.

I said nothing and continued surfing. I mentioned none of this to Tracy via text. I was afraid she, too, would urge me to take action.

I told my inner voice that it would be weird flirting with a mom. She might feel uncomfortable flirting around her daughter. She might be going home to a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. This is Portland, after all. Who knows? People on the bus may notice, and laugh.

The bus rolled on.

It’s been too long, I thought. Too much time had passed. The four-second rule for making an initial “hello” had long since passed. The four minute rule of social coaches had passed. Too long. I’ll look awkward, much as I already feel awkward.

In truth, it had probably been only a few minutes. The bus had driven maybe a half-mile, in evening city traffic, but still, not that long. The voice inside my head kept repeating, reworking, restating, some comment on the pirate earrings. Is there a story behind them? Where did you get them? Are you a pirate? Did you steal them from a pirate?

The bus stopped to load and unload passengers, and then, being early, the driver paused. In the interlude, the little girl got a bit restless, and decided to stand, awkwardly, on her tiny chubby legs. Holding on to the back of the seat, she pulled herself up. Bent over, face half-hidden in the pink vinyl hood of her pink vinyl coat, her huge eyes looked my way and, briefly, we made eye contact. Not wanting to encourage her, not wanting to seem weird or odd or creepy, I looked down at my iPhone.

She looked away, turned and looked out the window. She bubbled her babble.

Mom kept quiet herself, just paying enough attention to the young one to make sure she did not fall or lose her balance. Mom hummed encouragement, or soft questioning “hmm?” or just smiled and nodded.

The baby girl looked back at me, and again my automatic response was to look at her.

Framed in pink, topped in dark brown loose curls, dark eyes wide, she smiled at me.

I smiled, softly, showing no teeth.

She giggled.

I smiled a bit wider. I set down my iPhone.

She burbled a single word. “Daddy.”

“Hmmm?” Mom turned in her seat to face the little girl and smiled, then looked at me, then back at the girl. “What’s that?”

The baby girl pushed her fist in my direction and said, more questioning this time, “Daddy?”

I laughed, ruefully. “What, little girl?” I raised my hand, and wiggled my fingers at her.

She babbled something I did not catch.

Mom and I shared a glance. I smiled in a way that I hoped was not intrusive. “She’s very cute,” I said. “How old is she?”

“She’s almost two,” mom said to me, also friendly, smiling, but cautious.

“Very cute,” I mumbled, and lost the energy to continue. I picked up my phone again and pretended to be immersed in operating it.

The bus began moving again and the little girl sat down. Mom congratulated the girl for sitting down without prompting.

The bus rolled on.

Now ask her about her earrings, the voice said. The ice has been broken.

I said nothing more.

Mom and daughter got out several stops later.

The bus rolled on.