Ramrod straight she sits. Her hair, the color of a muddy Golden Retriever, is pulled back and up into a tight bun. A navy dress, with white piping, is serviceable and of a durable cotton. Her shoes cause a double-take, for their color is so like that of her legs and feet, that it appears she is barefoot but with no toes, like a department store mannequin. Deep black and perfectly round sunglasses hide her eyes, but they must be watchful and piercing, just as the set of her mouth is one of implacable determination. Only when the light hits her upper arm just so do I see a tattoo, slightly raised lettering, hidden skillfully with makeup. “Olga – Mark IV”, it reads. It seems one of the local tech companies is dabbling in androids. The guy next to her is getting ready to hit on her. This may be a very interesting morning after all.
It rides along with you, like something just in your periphery, over your left shoulder, that isn’t there when you turn around to confront it. Like a sound that you barely hear, and wonder whether you really hear something, it whispers in your ear. It joins you at the table when you sit down to eat, a presence felt regardless of whether you set a place for it or not. It is a guide of sorts, along a path we would rather not tread. Grief is the seneschal of Death’s house, and the doors it opens are heavy with sorrow.
It started with a sound. An unusual sound. Imagine the sound of a violin string suddenly snapping and hitting a large oil can in recoil. The can then rolls a few feet before hitting the shins of a very skinny man with a voice like a sheep. Twang-ker-blang-thrrrrummm-whack-baahaaaha-OW! All that in a split-second.That is the sound we hear from the back of the bus, as we careen down the road, taking weary travelers home after a Tuesday-that-Feels-Like-a-Monday. Heads whip around as everyone tries to figure out what could creat that sound. Nothing. Nothing looks amiss in the rear of the coach. No one in pain. No large metal drum and shattered violin. And everyone in the back is looking around as well, also looking for the source.
She’s frantically flipping through the pages of a spiral-bound notebook, pushing a stray auburn curl out of her eyes. Round and oddly reminiscent of a parakeet, she’s dressed for the Renn Faire, complete with thigh-high boots, a laced bodice, and a dark cape trimmed in grey velvet. Frustrated with her unsuccessful search through the notebook, she flips it closed and looks up to find the entire ridership looking at her. With the practiced ease of a performer, she stands, swirls her cape about her zaftig frame, and with a lilting “Cheerio!”, she departs through the back door. When Maid Marian time travels, she certainly makes a great entrance and an even better exit.
With a break from higher temperatures than we’re used to in this part of the country, the tension level aboard the 120 as we head into downtown is more normal. The ridership appears more at ease, now that our familiar drizzle of rain creates windblown rivulets of watery design on the windows. More at ease except for the man in the center seat.
At the bendy-bit of the bus, he sits alone, dressed in all black from the neck of his inky shirt to the tips of his black oxfords. His face and hands are pale and pink, and his head is smoothly shaved; round and shiny like a freshly hatched egg. He’s very anxious. Anxious particularly about the bag of trail mix that is sitting next to him. He touches it often, making sure it is still all there, and that there are no flaws in the plastic bag containing its nutty, salty, dried fruity, chocolate goodness. He looks at it, seems to think deeply, and then smiles. Until worry creases his face and he checks it again, glancing around, and often cocking his head sideways, as if listening to something far away.
It isn’t until I see a glimmer of greenish light reflecting off the cashews that I understand. Someone has figured out that Superman loves on-the-go snacks, and Lex Luthor is determined to give him a special Kryptonite-laced mix of his own diabolical making. I hope my stop arrives before Luthor does whatever nastiness he’s planning that will draw Supes to the bus and the tasty but deadly bag of snacky delight.
Buried somewhere deep within the Stygian recesses of his soul, a song begins to take shape. It is an ancient melody; it was sung when the world was new and only just finding its place within the universe. But for some, the music is silent. It lays dormant, waiting for just the right key to turn in a very unique lock. For this man, the key is about to be turned.
He stands in the aisle of the bus, riding the 125 as he has for what seems like an eternity of commutes. His blonde hair trimmed just so and with enough product in it that it doesn’t quite look real, but more like an interchangeable hairpiece on an action figure or even Barbie’s erstwhile boyfriend, Ken. His face is a study of impassivity and slight disdain; a small sneer curls his top lip from time to time. His cold, blue eyes look without seeing, glancing only perfunctorily at his fellow riders.
Until he is nudged from behind, ever so gently. Twisting around to launch a withering glare on the offender, he comes face to face with a woman as tall as he, with black, glossy hair and eyes as dark and deep as the Mariana Trench. She is beautiful in an unusual and somewhat avian way, by the shape of her mouth and the bone structure of her face. She cocks her head, slightly, looking at him with one eye and he freezes in mid-turn. The key has found the lock.
Suddenly, far within him, the music begins and he sees, truly for the first time, the world around him and his fellow travelers. The bus arrives at the next stop with a lurch and, as he grabs a handrail to keep himself steady, she kisses his cheek, noticing the salty tears on his face, and quickly vanishes through the opening doors.
Raven may be a trickster, but she loves humanity, and delights in revealing what is always there, deep inside of us.