“Do you know what time the next bus comes at?”
His voice cuts into my reverie. I am sitting on a bench outside the bus shelter, savouring the warm embrace of the sun. I have decided to not walk home today from the C-train. C.C. is playing golf and can’t pick me up and I have forgotten to bring my shoes to walk in. I know if I take the half hour walk home in the one’s I’m wearing, my feet will not thank me.
I tell him I don’t. Does anyone, I ask him with a smile? This is Calgary Transit.
He laughs back. Sits down on the bench a couple of seats away from me. “Well wouldn’t you know it would take forever,” he says with a sigh. “A perfect ending to a horrible day.”
I look at him. Smile. I don’t really feel like chatting. The sun is warm. The air still and I am enjoying these moments to relax in the sun.
And, I am curious. My natural state of being. I want to ask him what made his day so horrible. I want to understand.
“Well, at least the sun is shining and we’re not waiting here in the rain,” I say.
“Yeah. True. But I don’t get transit. Hardly ever take it,” he adds quickly.
In this sprawling city of 1.2 million people spread across an area of over 280 sq mi, there are a lot of jokes about transit and its unpredictability. Having a car is thought to be an essential.
“I dont’ usually go downtown,” he tells me, quick to jump into the conversation opener. “I work on the north hill.” I smile and he adds, “I wasn’t about to pay the ransom it takes to park my car downtown,” he adds.
Calgary has some of the priciest parking rates in all of North America. I know what he means.
“Do you get our court system?” he asks.
His change of direction startles me. “How do you mean?”
“Well. I had to go to court today. Oh nothing about me. I was the witness,” he adds quickly. “But the guy I had to testify against walked. They tell me I had to respond to the subpoena. That if I didn’t they’d put a warrant out for my arrest. So I take the day off. Get down there by 8am. Spend my day in a courtroom and then. The guy walks. I don’t get it.”
I don’t have an answer. I’m not sure what to say.
Fortunately, he’s not looking for a response. He just wants to be heard. “I mean, these two kids are racing down our back lane at 60 km and spraying gravel everywhere and there’s an old lady who lives across the lane from me and she’s in her garden and I’m putting out garbage and these two kids fly by and someone could have been hurt. So I do what I think I need to do and call the cops. But they’re useless. They don’t want to go talk to the kids which is what I told them they should do. But they say no, if you’re going to report it we have to issue a ticket and they do and I get told I have to turn up in court and then, they don’t even call me to testify. Whole deal is done before it even gets in front of the judge. I don’t get it.”
We chat some more. I bridle at his comment that all the cops are in the donut shop at the corner of 17th and 37th and tell him there are lots of good cops out there. He grudgingly admits its possible but insists not in this case.
We chat some more. The bus is taking a long, long time.
He starts to talk about his kids. How he would hope if his son was driving like a fool down the lane that someone would take matters in hand and let him know.
“He’s a good kid,” he tells me. “Living in China right now. The north. Don’t know why he wants to live there but he’s loving it. Teaches English. I worry about him. What if he catches a disease? What if he drinks the water and gets sick?”
I say something about how we have to trust our children to live their own lives.
He sits for a moment. Quiet.
“My youngest son will never be able to live his own life,” he says.
And he tells me of the brain tumor when his son was nine and life was a wide open field of possibility. “Longest nine hours of my life,” he says about the surgery that removed the tumor and how, when it was over the tumor was gone, and so was the son he knew.
And my heart breaks open and compassion swims all around us.
“That must have been heart-breaking,” I say.
And he nods his head up and down and says, “Yeah. It is.”
And the bus comes and we get on. He sits in t he seat behind me and tells me the rest of the story of his son who will never be able to live his own life.
He gets off two stops before mine. As he stands to exit the bus, I wish him well. I tell him his son is lucky to have such caring parents. There are many who don’t.
And he nods his head and stands to leave. “Thanks for listening,” he says. “My day didn’t feel such a waste.”
And he leaves and I understand the worry about his son in China.
And his concern that nobody is teaching the two kids driving too fast to slow down.
And I am in awe of our human condition and the capacity of compassion to swim into the space between us and connect us one to the other.