The Bus Stop

Bus Stop © Tobias Abel

The strong handsome man waiting at the corner bus stop stared straight ahead. People who drove past did a double take, for there was something in the way he stood so upright that exuded confidence. He was statuesque. This was amplified by what he wore: faded military fatigues along with a matching large backpack. Even though he could’ve just as easily set it down on the bench, he kept it on his back, a testament to his strength, as if he was ready for action. He kept his gaze forward, though you couldn’t see his eyes from under the brim of his military cap.

The sound of a steady tap of metal to concrete started subtly at first in the distance, but grew louder with each step. The soldier, used to being attentive to his surroundings, instantly perked up his ears. He was still unaccustomed to the mundane sounds of civilian life — birds chirping, cars whizzing by, the laughter of children. And now this. It came from his left side and he couldn’t recognize the sound.

He turned to see an elderly man making his way down the street, approaching him. The man was accompanied by a metal walker, the front two legs had wheels while the back two, where there would normally be neon yellow tennis balls, were bare. The legs struck the concrete with an even cadence.

The soldier couldn’t see the old man’s eyes, as he was also wearing a cap worn low over his forehead. He moved past the soldier and took a seat at the bench. Neither of them spoke to each other, though the soldier made silent observations about his new bus stop companion.

The old man pulled out from the inner pocket of his jacket a small book and pencil. He flipped through it to somewhere in the middle of the book to a dog eared page. It appeared to be a crossword puzzle book. Just as he was about to get started, his clumsy arthritic fingers dropped the pencil. It fell to the ground and rolled under the bench.

The old man fumbled around in his pockets, confused and unbeknownst to him where his pencil might have gone. Did he forget it at home again? He looked agitated.

The soldier kicked the pencil out from under the bench with his foot, and picked it up. “I believe you’re looking for this?” the soldier asked, although it came out in a flat tone, more like a statement than a question. He was just accustomed to speaking that way while on duty.

The old man seemed not to hear him. The soldier tapped him on the shoulder, which seemed to startle the man. They both jumped back, the soldier recoiling slightly from the surprise of his own strength, and the old man startled by the soldier. The soldier held up the pencil and met the old man’s gaze from behind his plastic rimmed glasses. He smiled and nodded.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear ya, son,” the old man said, while he pointed to his hearing aid. “Sometimes I forget to turn this thing on.”

The soldier nodded and uttered, “No problem sir.” He couldn’t fathom what it was like to lose one’s sense of hearing, or sight, or any of his senses for that matter, especially since his life and the lives of the men in his platoon depended on it. Though it was pretty common for soldiers to loose their hearing from repetitive exposure to bombings, or worse, they could lose limbs.

The old man wasn’t used to sharing his morning routine with this new silent stranger who stood behind him. But he was lonely. A widower, his children lived in another state and hardly visited him outside of holidays.

“Whatcha here for?” he asked, and looked up at the soldier.

The soldier hadn’t expected to have to talk to anyone today, let alone an elderly man that reminded him of his own grandfather. He cleared his throat, and remembering that the old man was hard of hearing, spoke clearly and loudly, although this time there was an element of gentleness in his voice that was absent just a few moments ago.

“I was deployed for a little bit, but they need me back sooner,” he replied.

The old man nodded. It seemed the soldier didn’t want to say any more. He understood, but pressed on.

“You’re brave, and I commend you for fighting for our country, son. I was in your shoes once, probably before you were born,” he said wistfully, as he rubbed his hands and let out a heavy sigh.

The soldier’s face softened. He was still distant, but decided to move onto the bench and sit down with his new friend.