The woman on the bus

Ernestina Anchorena: Bandadas

She answered the phone she carried attached to her belt as her bus crossed Coronel Diaz Avenue. She said yes, it was her, Mara Pereira, and asked who wanted to know. Then her face turned red and she bent her head. She lowered her voice and, almost whispering, said that Paula had told her she would call. She then said yes, it was a good time to talk, of course she would love it if she gave her phone number out, she was eager to go on a date.
The woman had gotten on the 67 bus at the Godoy Cruz stop. The bus was packed, it was 9 a.m. and headed downtown. She carried a handbag and a red bag with the logo of the Caro Cuore lingerie store. Sticking out of the bag was a pair of high heel patent leather shoes. The woman had paid her fare, taken her ticket and squeezed her way down the aisle. She found a spot and placed her red bag between her legs, stretched her arm and grabbed a pole to steady herself. She looked out the window as she talked on the phone and smiled with deep red lips flaked by soft, thick cheeks. She was wearing her hair in a taut ponytail. It looked shiny, either oily or gelled. She was wearing no make up save for the deep red lipstick. Her skirt, tight against her thighs, was more successful at keeping things in shape than her shirt: there was a gap between two buttons right between her breasts, revealing the lace of her bra. She was wearing sneakers and black stockings. One of her stockings had a run three inches long and was stopped by a drop of nail polish.
“Paula already explained everything, you need to know things about me so you can pass me as your friend when you set up a date. You would not want to suggest a complete stranger for a date. I understand.”
She smiled and looked at her fellow passengers. They all seemed absorbed in their own lives. The girl sitting in front of her was reading The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx and highlighted as she read.
“No problem. I know. Twenty months ago. Two boys and a girl. With their father, he has custody. The problem is my apartment is very small. My ex declared bankruptcy after we separated. They now live in his new wife’s home. The judge can’t take the house from him to pay his debts because it is in her name. It is in a gated community with a big yard, the kids love it there. They can ride their bikes and they have lots of friends. They all go to the same school, at walking distance. Maybe the oldest will come and live with me next year. He will go to college and will be closer to school if he moves with me. He is thinking of working during the day and going to school at night. He is a sweetheart.”
The bus skidded to a stop. The woman lost her balance and leaned on the shoulders of a man wearing gray overalls. She apologized, the man nodded and lifted his shoulders. He then moved toward the center of the bus. People complained when he pushed his way carrying his toolbox, but he just lowered his head.
“The new wife is very good with the kids. They love her. She was very understanding with the girl when she had her first period”
She looked around to see who was listening. Only an older woman sitting behind the girl reading The Eighteenth Brumaire.
“I am a brunette. 5’6. Brown, but on cloudy days they are almost green. And, … I am now not eating a healthy diet, so to speak. I eat crackers at work all day long and when I get home I am too tired to cook, I make a sandwich. I guess I eat a lot of bread. I have not gained much though, I might carry 8 extra pounds. I am a receptionist. I love music, it relaxes me like nothing else. I sing with the choir, at Las Victorias. I sing alto. We sing at events. We get paid for weddings but not for funerals. I know what you mean. Of course, hope is the last thing to lose. Anyway, they are doing well. You can imagine I don’t want them to go through another trial. This time it would have to be a criminal trial, to prove that their father works and gets paid under the table. Bankruptcy court would love that! Anyway, I don’t have the money for lawyers. They are the only ones that win in the end. And if I won, the kids would have to pack up and move again, change schools, miss the yard, the bikes, their new friends.”
The bus was not as crowded now. It was crossing 9 de Julio Avenue. Someone on the bus was peddling cappuccino whisks. He said they cost only two pesos. He stood next to the driver with his legs apart and started making a demonstration of his product: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this whisk will allow you to obtain a great creamy foam in your coffee. It is ideal for cappuccinos. It is very simple. Two triple A batteries is all you need” He pressed a button and the whisk started whizzing. He began walking again down the aisle. By the time he got to the back of the bus nobody had bought one. He started shaking the coins in his pockets and said thank you, thank you, who would like another one? Two pesos, two little pesos, that is all, and you can enjoy your own cappuccino at home. He then walked toward the bus driver, collecting the whisks he had not sold and put them back in his bag.
“I studied sociology. At the University of Buenos Aires. You can imagine that working as a sociologist I would never be able to take the kids on summer vacations, and they are used to nice things. Anyway, my bosses are great people, they are very supportive. They even pay for my apartment.”
The woman sat down. She put her handbag and her red bag on her lap. With her free hand she held them tightly against herself.
“I don’t know what I want from life. I used to know, I was so sure of myself, you know, when you are young you have so many dreams, you romanticize everything. Now I know that it is better not to know what you want and to just adjust to what comes your way. I have a strong faith, and when you are a believer you trust in a superior being that knows why things happen. When I was married I would talk to my husband about the future. When the kids were born we would talk about when they would go to school. When they were in school we would talk about when they would be in university or when they would be married, we would even talk about our grandchildren. Back then the future, to me, looked rosy. It was going to be, without a doubt, everything I had imagined’

The bus stopped at Retiro Station. An older woman got on with her down syndrome son. It was easy to notice their relationship because the man called her “Mama” as he pulled his mother`s arm. They sat down in front of the woman. The mother made gestures to the son to sit up straight. He turned around, looked at the woman and smiled.
“I like going to the movies, the theater also. A photo? I will send you one in the mail. Give me your address. Great, that is easy. Yes, I will remember it.”
All of a sudden the man with down syndrome grabbed the woman’s red bag and pulled out the heels. The mother scolded him and the man returned the bag and the shoes.
“I have a lawyer. He is my cousin. I don’t want any more lawyers, only available men.”
The woman laughed shyly, with a hee hee sound covering her mouth with her hand. The man started laughing as well, as if the woman’s laugh were contagious. He would open his mouth and swallow big gusts of air. The mother told him to stop and sit tight. The man looked at the ceiling of the bus with his mouth wide open, raised his arms and stretched them out laughing. All of a sudden he stood up, held the woman’s face with both hands, looked at her and said:
“Today is Tuesday!”
He then looked up again with his hands interlocked under his chin in a prayerful gesture. He knelt on the bus’ aisle still looking up. He was crying as if in ecstasy and repeated: “Today is Tuesday, today is Tuesday”
The woman hung up her phone. Her eyes were wet. She dried her tears with the sleeve of her shirt. Held her bag and her handbag tightly to her chest. Got off the bus in Corrientes Ave. The bus stopped at a red light. We could still see her. She steadied herself on a sign post and removed the heels from her bag. She put them on and put the sneakers in the bag and started walking at a fast pace on Alem Street toward Mayo Avenue.