Not until the bus took off did I notice the ball rolling toward me. It was about two and a half inches in diameter, pale brown. It looked like a dusty lump of clay, a fuzzy ping pong ball. It went directly for my feet. Then there were two. Then three. I shifted my legs to avoid crushing, kicking or otherwise interacting with them.
When the bus stopped and the trio skipped along forward, I realized they were stale powdered cinnamon Munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts. They rolled too well to be soft and fresh.
Following their trail toward the front of the bus, I saw a puddle spreading forward and backward along the ravines in the floor. It was the same color as the Munchkins. Coffee with cream. Ah, someone had been to Dunkin’ Donuts and spilled something.
I traced the coffee to its source. A woman seated near the front of the bus was reaching down to the floor, concentrating very hard on gathering up the donut holes in the clear plastic cup they came in. What is she going to do with them? I thought. Does she actually want to eat them, or is she just cleaning up after herself?
The coffee cup, on its side on the floor under her seat, rolled helplessly back and forth in a lazy half-circle.
Whatever she was doing, she was not doing it well. She was slow and very uncoordinated. The moment she trapped a Munchkin and went for a second one, she would lose the first. When she gave up and sat upright, I could see that she was drunk.
When I saw her face, I guessed she was in her mid-40s, though her present condition made her look older. Her untamed hair was not yet gray. She wore a large, expensive-looking ring on her right hand, which tightly gripped the seat in front of her. Her black nylon jacket was probably warm enough for a late November evening, but I was’t sure about her gray yoga pants.
As the bus trundled along, she heroically fought against sleep, sinking lower and lower and then snapping back upright at intervals. The only thing keeping her from tumbling to the floor was the grip of that bejeweled hand.
It was difficult to watch. And I realized I was staring, so I decided to try ignoring her. Not my problem; not my business. But the majority of passengers were all watching her now, chattering, laughing, talking openly and at full volume about her. The woman next to me leaned forward and shouted, “Yo! Wake up!”
The drunk woman snapped back to attention and cast a half-glance over her shoulder in our direction, but not enough to actually see the person who had addressed her.
Each time the bus stopped and she cantilevered forward, blocking the aisle, the after-work crowd boarding did their best to side-step her without touching her.
The next time I looked up at her, a spark caught my eye. She was trying unsuccessfully to light a cigarette. Between the movement of the bus and her own shaky hands, she couldn’t quite hold steady enough to make the flame meet the cigarette.
The woman next to me again spoke up — “Yo! You trying to smoke on this bus?” — but the drunk woman made no response or reaction. I wondered what the driver was going to do about it — what she could do about it. So far, nothing.
Seconds later, the drunk woman dropped her cigarette. It landed right between her feet in the puddle of coffee. She folded herself over again to grasp for it. She got a few good jabs at it with a finger, but she never made contact long enough to grab it. Each effort instead pushed the thing further away as the paper continued to dissolve in the ebb and flow of the cold puddle.
She gave up on the cigarette and did not right herself again before I got off the bus at my stop.
When I exited, I looked in the window where she was sitting. She remained restlessly, uncomfortably slumped over. All I could see was her hunched back, a crescent moon of skin exposed where her jacket had ridden up, and the gray, round shape of her butt.