Today, the strangest woman got on the bus. I tried not to stare but you know how that goes. She looked to be ninety with a shriveled face and snowy white hair. She stood no more than four feet tall. To be accurate, I heard her before I saw her.
I was on the #38 Geary, going downtown.
The driver pulled over and stopped at Park Presidio. The old woman attempted to climb the stairs onto the bus. It sounded as if she could barely make it. “Help me. Help me,” she shrieked. It sounded like someone was murdering her. The driver didn’t budge. Nor did anyone else.
The bus was fairly crowded. I sat in the front. I wanted to get up and offer her assistance but feared losing my seat. Two teenage boys laughed. I mentally slapped them.
“Somebody. Somebody help me.”
In horror, I saw one of her feet advance to the top step. As she bore her weight down on it she squealed in agony as if bearing down on a freshly amputated stump. Someone from behind was pushing her.
She emerged, swaddled in sweaters, a goblin of a woman, a paisley scarf tied around her neck. She held onto the rail and when she picked up her other foot and lay it down, she again shrieked in pain. No one did anything to comfort her. It seemed she could die for all we cared.
A trim Asian woman in a turquoise dress, obviously her aide, followed her onto the bus. She smiled at us, and said, “Hello, everybody. I’ve got this under control. Don’t worry. She’s always like this.” We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The old woman plopped her buttocks down in a front sideways seat vacated for her by a kindly gentleman. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” she moaned, responding to what seemed like thousands of hot tiny needles pricking her pelvis. I again wanted to do something for her, but what? I felt so powerless.
Two stops later the driver slowed and pulled over, the waiting passengers stepping aside to let her off the bus. She repeated the same distressing routine. “Help me. Help me. I’m falling.” Her cries pierced the air.
Carefully, her aide navigated her off the bus. The teenage boys laughed. I swung my head around, shoved my sunglasses up on top of my head and glared at them.
“Help me,” she cried.
I usually don’t talk to people on the bus, but I turned to the gray-haired woman sitting next to me. “Sometimes life is really hard for people, huh?”
“You better believe it,” she said. “And if anybody tells you different, then they’re a fool.”
Eliza Mimski’s work has appeared in Entropy, Poets Reading the News, as well as Eunoia Review and other publications. This San Francisco resident was a finalist in the 2017 San Francisco Writers Conference contest, in adult fiction. She was also a finalist, in 2017, in the UK’s Fortnight Poetry Prize.