Overheard, City Bus Edition

There should be a word for “overseen” or “over-read” for this one, a heartbreaking one, came from my reading the paper in my seatmate’s lap on the bus last week in Seattle.

A handsome, skinny black teenage boy sat down next to me. On his lap, he had little plastic folder with a clear cover, the kind you use to protect a high school report. In the folder, visible through the plastic, was a page of lined notebook paper with elaborate written directions.

The directions were complicated, confusing, and written in the handwriting of a semi-literate person. Each line was indented a bit from the prior one, so that the margins sloped off to the right. They were also reassuring (“Don’t worry about price.” “Find a pay phone and call me if you get lost.”) and heartbreaking. In short, they described how to take the #11 bus to Safeway, buy a large container of Mongolian beef with rice and then walk down the hill to the AIDs hospice for a visit. Was the Mongolian beef for the boy or for the person he was going to visit? Was he visiting a mother? An uncle? And, somehow, I found myself wondering, why Mongolian beef? The specificity of it was maybe the most moving thing: was this the only dish the patient could stomach? The one she or he knew to be most reliable? Or this week's craving?

He looked like a “good boy,” nervously craning his neck as the bus mounted the hills and descended the valleys that separate downtown from Madison Park and the note, so trusting and touching and thorough seemed to confer virtue on him.