The day was humid and overcast, and traffic roared past unmindful of the three waiting for the city bus. They had seen each other before on hot afternoons, each with private thoughts and making occasional attempts at conversation: "Yes, it does seem warmer today," and "Well, you never know."
Inside each was the experience of an entire day. George had spent that day moving a pile of potting soil and gravel to the other end of the nursery (it could have been done in half an hour by backhoe), and his arms, back and feet ached. It felt good to be sitting. Dimly he felt resentment at the job that left him too numbed to think about his own private concerns. But not all days were like that, he mused; some days he spent watering the garden, watching the water glisten over shiny leaves and collect in beads on the white flowers. Then his mind could wander, or just rest lightly on the profusion of hot, moist life around him--the thought brought him back to the sticky afternoon. he glanced quickly to see if the bus had come, then over at the other two on the bench with him to see if his lapse had been detected.
On his right was a young man in his early 20's. George noted with acquired tolerance the long hair and wispy beard, and thought of the two kids he worked with. "If I had a son..." The young man opened a book bearing the distinguished title of "Psychology and Social Adjustment in American Society." George couldn't help but notice the name penciled in the front cover--Tom McPearson--then looked away. He wondered whether that kind of education would help young people "adjust" when they got out into the real work world...
Tom made himself read through the first three pages of his assignment, then looked up at a close-passing truck and realized he had retained nothing. It was one of those days that hang on you like a wet sheet, and Tom thought of the van he wanted to buy but wouldn't be able to afford for another five months. With the part-time job at the restaurant, he had less study time--he forced his attention back to the book on his lap. "Rapid change in technology, resulting in industrialization and urbanization, creates a paradoxical condition of intensified interdependence and increasing alienation. Personal contacts are specialized and forced into superficial roles..." He looked up from his book, and glancing at the people sitting on either side of him on the bench, he wondered if the barrier he felt between them and himself was really any different than that felt by people in earlier centuries. The gray-haired man on his left was leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, gazing at something beyond the traffic. His weathered hands, clasped in front of him, betrayed him as some sort of manual laborer. Tom held back the label, "redneck," reminding himself of the old man who had taught him to fly cast in South Carolina. To Tom's right was a fair-skinned woman in her 30's, with bright red hair loosely tied back, wearing a blue maternity blouse, shorts and sandals. She was in late pregnancy, and seemed uncomfortable in the afternoon heat. He had always thought pregnancy beautiful, and wanted to ask all kinds of questions about the unborn baby, but decided he'd better not.
After an indeterminate stretch of time, Tom caught himself immersed in a fantasy of marriage and children, and determinedly put his mind back into the sociology text.
"Well, I won't have to work again until Tuesday," Linda thought, stretching her legs and setting the white shopping bag with her work clothes on the concrete beside the bench. She knew it wouldn't be long before Mr. Garrick would ask her to resign. her feelings about this were varied and interwoven, so that they could not be easily separated. The decision to keep working had been a difficult one, and she was grateful to her husband Daniel for his encouragement. She wondered what the two men next to her on the bus bench would think if they knew she was working, and in her eighth month. She was immediately annoyed at herself for caring, and yet she knew that this was the main reason she had changed clothes. "I need to let people accept or reject me as I am," she thought, "and not be afraid of their opinions." But rejection was a frightening thing to Linda all the same, just as it was, she told herself, to everyone who would admit it. She looked more carefully at the men sharing her bench. The older man seemed tired and lonely, while the other reminded her of her kid brother Michael in Wyoming. She searched her mind briefly for a family relation who was like the older man, but found none. She wondered if he was already an uncle to someone...
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden pressure in her abdomen--her baby had awakened and was stretching inside the cramped uterus. This was Linda's first child, and she had been delightfully surprised to discover how active unborn children were. At night she and Daniel would lay back with her belly exposed, laughing at the lively pokes and rolls protruding from within her, trying to guess which limb was which. Now, part of her wanted to hide her miracle, while another part of her wanted to share it with these men who felt as though they could be her family. She decided to try and, heart pounding, she grasped for the appropriate words--then realized, with mixed disappointment and relief, that she didn't even know their names.
Feeling a sudden breeze, George noticed some clouds rolling in towards them; he could sense the subtle tension that signals rain. He knew the bus as to come at 5:20, and seeing that the young man had a watch, he decided to ask for the time.
"Uh, excuse me, what time do you have, there?"
"Bus should have been here by now." There was a brief pause, then George added, "Reckon we'll be gettin' some rain."
Tom glanced around him, then said, "Doesn't look like any place for us to stand in out of the rain if it comes, either."
Linda leaned forward and produced her yellow umbrella, "This is a pretty big one, we could use it if we had to."
George answered, "Thanks, but you'd better use it for yourself. I don't mind a little rain." After he had said this, he felt as if a door had shut. There was a long silence, while traffic rushed past and the air grew cool and electric. He had thought of asking the others' names (though he knew Tom's), but now it seemed impossible.
Just then a strong gust of cold wind swept across the bench and simultaneously large drops began landing intermittently around them. They could see, also, a wall of harder rain advancing towards them from the nearby intersection. Linda struggled with the umbrella as Tom reached for her shopping bag and said, "Here, let me take this."
Impulsively, Linda asked, "You sure you guys wouldn't want to take a 'rain check' on this umbrella? Looks pretty wet!"
George answered, "OK, why not?", and Tom joined them just as the heavier rain reached their bench.
By the time the bus came they were all drenched to the waist, laughing at their own clumsiness and bad fortune. George held the umbrella at the door as Linda went carefully up the steps, followed by Tom who was trying his best to keep her bag from falling apart. They weren't able to get seats together, and although a man in front got up to give Linda a seat she would rather have stayed with her friends.
Then, feeling the touch of a slight hand on her arm, she turned to see a small elderly woman with mischievous blue eyes sparkling in her tanned face. "What do you think," she asked Linda, shouting over the noise of excited talking and laughter, "doesn't it just smell so new?"
--Stephen Sakellarios, approx. 1970