I never saw her get on the bus. It just rolled on down North Ave on its way to Harford Rd. The fumes irritated my nose and the shoddy suspension made my empty stomach queasy. The bus was packed tight on a Monday morning and I stared out of the window thinking only of how much I hated public transportation; its smells and passengers.
It was 1986; a transition period in my life and I was in the midst of an existential crisis. My mind fluttered back and forth between how and why I was occupying space and time and contemplating my few but significant shortcomings.
The carriage stopped around Greenmount Ave where most of its riders exited. And as the bus thinned, its then nearly hollow shell revealed a curious creature. She wore a tight short skirt and off-white boots decorated with paisley – a subtle nod to her favorite artist.
Her hair was tight, lips painted red, makeup neatly, tastefully applied. Her shit was together. The fitted skirt revealed womanly curves though one could easily tell that she was just a girl. Legs smooth as frog skin. Her plump, sweet lips clung to a face far too serious for her age and framed by dangling gold hoops. She looked out-of-place on the MTA bus and nothing about her spoke of Baltimore. I peeped that from the start.
I wish that this was the part of the story where I could offer a tale of love-at-first-sight. One where we looked into each other’s eyes and saw our future. A story of rapid pulses and beating hearts. But I can not. The truth of the matter is that I saw chocolate thighs and she…well, she saw nothing.
I moved closer. Perhaps to get a better look, a whiff of perfume. I didn’t talk to strangers then. Not usually. I had no pick up lines at the ready. Two seats away I sat innocuously; eyes fixed firmly on her paisley ankle boots. My eyes worked their way up from ankle to leg to thigh and hip. And at the risk of sounding crude…noticed that she had a nice ass. A really nice ass.
Now normally, that would be the extent of my mental escapade. I’d admire a pretty girl and entertain a fantasy or two. Shyness was always difficult for me to overcome. But I noticed an “in”…a gateway to introduction. She and I happened to be gripping the same text-book. And I thought, “Surely it can’t get any easier than this.” So I spoke, “Excuse me. Did we have assignments to complete from that book”? Her reply was a cold, “yes.” There was no look of “oh are we in the same class” or “I’m glad to make a new acquaintance.” “Yes” was all she said and she continued her blank stare out of the aquarium-like window of the MTA bus. I swung, I missed, I felt dejected.
I thought myself a charming fellow but she remained immune to my charms for a while. Yet I remained obdurate in my backdoor approach. Overtime, in class, I earned her trust and friendship. I finally smashed it half-way through the semester.
I still remember the first kiss. The sound of her voice when she first said my name. Walks to the corner store. The first time she used profanity. Me showing her my small slice of Baltimore. Getting off the bus at Lexington Market. Extravagant lunches at Burger King. Late night phone calls when one of us would eventually fall as sleep. Not wanting to be the first to hang up the phone. Painful times. Fun times. Confusing times. Events and emotions that proved to be the genetic code of love and the foundation of our union.
Me and the girl from the bus played house. We made babies. We were the architects of dreams. But there never was a love-at-first-sight moment. No fantasy tale to tell. No eyes meeting and locking among the throngs of miserable faces on the MTA bus. Love is what you make of it and we chose to make something special.
I tricked MTA girl into loving me. Taught her how to love me, really, as she taught me to love her. 26 Valentine’s Days have come and gone. 26 Valentine’s Days have added 26 strong blocks to our foundation. And now, in retrospect, these 26 Valentine’s Days have given me a newfound appreciation for public transportation.