On the 38

We were riding the 38 home that night, trundling west on Geary Street. The bus was packed but we’d snagged two seats in the middle, in that section of the bus that conjoins the two halves and gives you a tinge of motion sickness when the bus makes a tight turn and breaks in two, giving you the fleeting sense that you’re to be shorn in half amidst a mess of steel. Across the narrow aisle, almost knee-to-knee, a man in his middle 50’s — white hair, graying stubble, weathered skin — bounced to the beats in his earbuds. He sported a straight-brimmed basketball cap, his pants were tighter than expected for one of his age, and he wore skate shoes on his feet. His eyes stuck to the floor, but we admired this unusual stranger in private, making small smiles to one another and gesturing with our eyes. His mystique deepened when he began rapping under his breath, no louder than a whisper.

As we neared Inner Richmond, he seemed at once to return to his reality, removing the headphones and laying them gently over his shoulder, craning his neck to determine our whereabouts and request a stop. Without warning he looked up, locking eyes. His smile was warm, the energy of his full attention radiant.

“I’m really sorry to butt in but I needed to say how great you two look with each other. It’s not my place but I just wanted to tell you.”

Words of thanks fell from our mouths like wet bread, though the thought on our minds was more truthfully to the tune of “would it be acceptable to become friends forever?” Just a moment later, he rose from his seat and exited.