We're waiting for a bus, he and I. He's in his electric wheelchair that won't move. I almost ran over him back in the bar, stalled in the middle of a narrow aisle way. It's not the first time his chair has failed him. Waitresses and customers were squeaking by on either side.
"Need a push, Bob?"
"Let's get you moving here"
I pushed him out into the foyer, which, to be honest, was all I'd really intended to do. I had a half-finished pint back at my table, and I was really supposed to be helping people memorize dance steps. When we reached the front area, he asked me to do something. His speech is rough, and I don't know him that well, so I couldn't make out a thing. His mouth opens and his neck cranes back as he struggles to repeat it. Suddenly, it comes out in a rush.
"You want me to ask the driver to help you?"
Relief in his eyes.
"Sure no problem"
So we begin what turns out to be quite a vigil. We're a bit early, and the bus driver is very late. We don't talk much, because it's just too hard. Every now and then, I walk to the door, and peak out into the rainy night. No shuttle bus. Bob and I make eye contact, and smile at each other. He feels guilty keeping me there. I feel bad making him feel guilty, so I resolve to not look out the window anymore. I start up a conversation, albeit mostly one-sided.
"I like this song"
"What kind of music do you like?"
A little louder "Magashaja"
"I'm sorry, Bob, I'm just not getting it.
I sadly shake my head.
I step to stare out at the rain again.
Other friends pass by, leaving for home.
"Oh so this is where you are!"
"Yeah, I'm just helping Bob with his bus."
"We missed you when we did tonight's dance. Don't forget your tip jar is still out"
"Ok, Thanks! Goodnight!
The later the bus gets, the more anxious Bob becomes. I've always felt a bit of sorrow for him, but the more tense he gets, the more helpless I feel. In my life, if my car dies or something, I can always walk the three or four miles home. Better yet, I'd just call a friend to come fetch me. Here's a guy who can't walk home, can't talk on the phone, can't even dial. He needs others to help, but I can tell he hates to ask.
Another ten or fifteen hours seem to crawl by.
"When is the bus supposed to be here? Is there someone I should call, Bob?"
"Zlate, sall...Juz, juzlate"
"Hi Steve. Can you walk me out to my car?"
"Sure. Bob, I'll be right back, OK?"
"Is he OK?"
"Oh yeah, he's fine, I'd like to strangle his bus driver though. He really needs these people to be on time. He's got nobody in the world, other than city employees. Now they're letting him down."
Grumbling at the ineptitude, I head back in. I have to pause in the doorway for a guy coming out in a ridiculously loud suit. I immediately flash back to childhood memories of Porter Wagoner on Grand Ole Opry. Garish pastel blue suits with so many sequins the old TV cameras couldn't handle it. Bob's crooked smile tells me he might be thinking something close.
"We wondered where you got to"
"Yeah, just waiting for a bus"
"Did you see that guy in the sequins? My God, what an ugly suit!"
"Yeah, reminds me of that guy on TV years ago."
I'm sure Bob knows the answer.
"Oh, what was his name, tall thin guy, silver hair. He wore ugly suits like that."
"That's right, Porter Wagoner, you're right, Bob. God, he was a terrible dresser."
"Well, g'night Steve. Night Bob"
At last, as I put the last of my friends in her car, I see the bus pulling in.
"Hi there! Bob's wheelchair's died on him again. He's going to need your help."
"OK, we'll get him settled in"
Lightly, almost without thinkning, "Hey no problem, my friend"
I walk back into the bar on my healthy legs, and I reach for my tip jar. I use my fingers to pick up a few crumpled dollar bills. Not much tonight, of course I wasn't working much. I tell a few people that I'm headed home, and, of course, they understand me the first time. I receive a couple of hugs and handshake or two, all of them at near eye level. I pick up the forty pounds of stuff I lug about, and I head outside. The driver is just walking around, getting in. Bob waves a crooked arm at me "Sanks, Seeeve" I get in my car, and the rain hammers on the roof. I glance up as the bus goes by, I can see him still waving and his mouth forming "Sankyou Seeeve".
Thank you, Bob. I thank you for letting me help you. I thank God, wherever he might be, for giving me this body, these nerves, these muscles. I thank the fates for putting us together this night. I thank my mother for my heart and for her pushing me to stop and listen. I thank the night for the peace. I thank the rain for the solitude, so nobody sees me as a tear works it way down my cheek.