Returning for a visit to Toronto after leaving the quiet driving habits of a small town like Truro, in Nova Scotia was quite a challenge. My sister, Pat, lived in Hamilton, Ontario and was eager to take me on a ride along her bus route.
I hadn't seen her for a few years, and what was a lady driver doing anyways on the busiest highway in Canada? The 401? Her daily duties with GO TRANSIT meant transporting commuters back and forth from Hamilton to Toronto, and return.
Besides she loved it.
I settled down in the front seat in front of the entrance to the huge bus. It was designed to provide maximum safety and comfort for its customers who left the driving to someone else. Now I was one of them.
As we drove through the outskirts of Hamilton, roaring engines were caught up in the excitement of heading onto the fast moving highway. But first there remained a few stops along crowded Hamilton streets where passengers were sandwiched together, waiting for our arrival.
There seemed to be more people on the sidewalk than in our whole downtown back home. Each stop meant more people. How many extra could this bus accommodate? Is this bus going to be full of sweaty, gabby people, all the way to Toronto? I wondered.
My sister had advised me most passengers simply raised a newspaper to their eyes to prevent any one being a bother. That way conversation was not an option. And a polite snooze could easily take place, as long as one held onto their paper.
Or so I thought, until one remarkable lady stepped slowly up the bus steps, one painful foot at a time. She was clutching a parcel in one hand and a wrinkled ticket in the other.
"Nice day," my sister said, greeting the lady.
The commuter growled back with a snappy, "I've had better days," then threw herself into the space beside me.
I quickly pulled out my paper, but could barely lift it between us. My elbow was jammed into her purse. No-No, I thought. I don't want to hear a barrage of sadness, from some stranger. The sun was shining, cars flashed by in a parade of colour and grazing cows paused as well-designed statuettes.
"If only Bill had taken me to the bus, instead of that thing," the lady mumbled.
"What thing," I wondered, dropping my newspaper with a nosey crinkle. I could see my sister ahead of me smiling in her rear view mirror. She did warn me about chatty customers. And it seems I inherited one.
"That thing," my new friend continued, seeing my full attention was riveted to a bit of her news
"She's really my gossipy next door neighbor. She just can't wait to tell everyone, my husband and I had words again. He promised to take me shopping today. But no, he needs the car. Gone to the racetrack is where he's headed, knowing our daughter's being married off next week and every cent is needed. And what must I have to do, why go into the big city and do my own shopping for a dress. And it's so crowded here in the bus, and I have to sit here like a sardine; no offense mister."
Then she said, "Hot isn't it," and promptly closed her eyes, faking a snooze.
Finally, her eyebrows stopping flinching, arms by her side instead of flailing about; and her words at rest.
I returned to my paper until I was sure she was lost in her own world of thoughts. The traffic paralyzed my mind, cars streaking forward from intersections joining our swift-moving procession, as branches forcing themselves onto a large tree trunk.
Now I could see the city towers of Toronto's skyline. And soon I would join my sister for a breakfast break at the main Terminal, before our return journey, the first of many this day.
And breaking the rule of "No Passenger Conversation with Driver" above my sister's head, asked, "How can you stand all this driving? And the traffic?" I said, rolling my eyes.
"Every day is a new story," she smiled. "And you've heard one of them." Now it was my turn to smile. And catch a quick nap, as the bus wheels hummed along.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2006
Richard enjoys writing and has many poetry e-books listed on he and his wife's Author Page: www.amazon.com/Esther-and-Richard-Provencher/e/B00O8K9UKE. PTL.
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