There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Karaoke on the bus

The commute was peaceful, fitting well with the cool breeze that foretold another nice summer day.

The No. 82 bus had just three riders when I boarded. Two women wearing sun hats sat together in the first front-facing seats. They were middle-aged Japanese women whom I've often seen riding together. Sisters, perhaps. Across from them, in the first seat inside the door, sat the preteen girl with the collapsible scooter and the teddy-bear backpack. Normally, I see her on the bus that runs an hour before this.

I took my regular seat in the first elevated row in the back of the bus. This was one of the newer buses. The seat upholstery looked new or at least freshly cleaned.

The girl left the bus two stops after I boarded, leaving just the women, silent in the front, and me with my book in the back. Accompanying us was the background hum of the bus engine and the intermittent jangle of noise whenever the bus met a bump in the road. All very relaxing.

At Watt, we took on a young woman. Her day-glo lime green t-shirt distracted me from my book. She walked the length of the bus and took a seat on the back bench, and I went back to reading.

A little while later, I thought I heard singing. It appeared to be coming from the front of the bus. Were the two Japanese ladies humming a tune? I imagined them practicing a song they were learning at the Winterstein Adult School, where immigrants learn English and others learn job skills. Perhaps the school tests the immigrants' enthusiasm for citizenship by torturing them with learning the National Anthem. But I soon discarded that thesis. These ladies don't get off at the Winterstein stop.

As the bus continued on and the singing grew louder, I realized that it was coming from the woman who had taken the seat in the back of the bus.

Is it NOT possible to sing in key when singing along with recorded music?

The bus took on more passengers. A middle-aged man with a straw hat settled into the seat across from me. A young mother and a toddler took a seat near the front. And the woman in the back continued to sing.

Well, she continued to make that sound. It is easy to imagine a dying woman, drugged to dull the pain, producing a comparable noise, a muted agony accompanying life's end.

More people boarded and some left but still the woman persisted.

Cats. Well, one cat. That's what it reminded me of. Sitting on the fence, loudly calling out the neighbor felines for an evening concert. In the cartoons, a guy opens a window and tosses a shoe. I didn't have a shoe to spare.

In the front of the bus, the toddler was squirming in his mother's lap. He was making pre-talking noises and fussing sounds. But at least he was in key.

And then the woman stopped singing. Finally. Her stop was coming up, and she had moved to a seat behind me to wait. As the bus pulled to the curb, she got up and stood at the side door.

As the bus door opened, the man across from me said to the woman, "You have a nice day. You have a beautiful voice."

The man smiled at her. It was a gentle, grandfather sort of smile.

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