I’ve had more than my fair share of running into strange people on my commute to and from school that I’ve developed the habit of racing past everyone and ignoring any shouts that nag at my back. If it’s not the homeless panhandler asking for change, it’s the mentally unstable psychopath babbling about the woes of the government. I always blared my headphones or immersed myself in a book each time I stepped foot in a bus to avoid most of these bothersome people.
One rainy Monday afternoon, it was the same routine. Wait at the bus stop in Westlake Center for the perpetually late 550, step on as it screeches to a halt, sit, and stare out the window until I got to the sane(er) turf of Bellevue. As with anyone else, I try to leave my belongings in the seat next to me so that I can have a chance at having the seat to myself.
“Hey…” a middle-aged woman nervously called out to me from across the aisle. I ignored her.
“Hey!” she tried again, with more confidence this time. I felt uncomfortable ignoring her this time because she had scooted towards me, leaning over the aisle in her seat. I slid off my headphones. Must be something important like asking for directions if she NEEDS to talk to me, right?
“Can I give you two cigarettes for fifty cents?” she asked. I groaned to myself and in my perfected, fake but believable, thick Asian accent, I responded: “Ai dontto smooku (I don’t smoke).” Without waiting for a response, I put my headphones back on and went back to staring at the lovely scenery of the bus tunnel. The grungy bus (usually they’re pretty good in Seattle) with its 70s style, brown leather seats was almost out of the tunnel and it would only be a few more stops before I reach home and could put away this cold, uncaring, tough facade until tomorrow morning. I wasn’t a rude person by nature so having to act this way in order to get some peace was extremely uncomfortable for me.
The 550 stopped at the International District station and a whole herd of people with faces similar to mine stepped on the bus. Being that it’s a bus going out of Seattle at 5:30 in the afternoon, needless to say, it was packed. Just as the driver had closed the doors, it opened again and a breathless old man climbed aboard.
He looked to be in his 60s and like most other Asian men of that age, was considerably short; probably around 5’1″ or so. He wore a gray nylon jacket, some old faded jeans, and a beaten-up baseball cap. Like many others on the bus, he was carrying a plastic shopping bag from Uwajimaya.
I could tell he hadn’t completely adapted to the American lifestyle as he had a thick accent which I’m sure he wasn’t faking and thanked the driver profusely with a slight bow at each “sankyuu”. He paid his fare and started making his way down the aisle. With a quick glance, I could see that all the seats around me were occupied. Feeling like I didn’t have much of a choice, I pulled my backpack onto my lap and made a seat. The gentleman saw this and moved towards the seat next to me. He sat down and like the driver, he thanked me profusely, each accented with a bow. I let my guard down just a little and smiled at him. He seemed from so far away.
As soon as the bus took off for the east side, I felt like I’d fallen into the trap again. Just like how I wasted common courtesy to the beggar woman, I felt like I wasted a smile on this man as he kept looking over at me and whenever he’d meet my eyes, he smiled. Uncomfort galore.
I was relieved when the bus pulled into the Bellevue park and ride. I made a gesture to let the man I was getting off at the next stop and when I had passed him, he gave me another smile and said, “Sankyuu foa yoa kaindonessu. Yuu rook raiku mai dootaa hoo paasudo awei rasto iiya. Shii wazu kaindo raiku yuu tuu! (Thank you for your kindness. You look like my daughter who passed away last year. She was kind like you too!)” With that, he offered his hand to me. As a feeling of warmth overtook me, I shook it and smiled a genuine smile at him. I hope I see him again sometime…