“And then when you’re in the hospital, I’d put a coffin in there as a joke,” a voice said.
“There’ll be no joke, because I’ll kill you when I get out,” a second responded.
“You will have a heart problem worry like that,” a third voice said.
They were teen boys on the bus, sitting in the back, laughing and threatening each other as teen boys who really like each other do.
These particular ones were black and fashionable. Pants by knees with boxers poking out. Adidas gear. Brand name all the way. One had dreadlocks.
As the bus lurched to a stop Chicago Avenue, a Latina woman of about 20 to 22 came on board and headed straight to the back. She wore cat’s eye glasses and had her hair perfectly coiffed and teased into retro ’50s, save the purple swoops on each side that made the look vintage 2013.
A thin Latino man in a slim-fitting pea coat trailed after her, carrying two bags from a clothing store.
The woman in the glasses and purple-sided ’50s hair sat down among the hip hopped up teens and addressed them as friends.
“Hey guys, I’m going to win the lottery on Tuesday,” she said. “What do you want?”
The teens looked at each other.
“I’m going to win the lottery,” she said. “What do you want?”
“You’re going to win the lottery?” one of the teens asked.
“Yes,” she said, pulling out greeting cards covered with photos of lilacs. “Write down what you want.”
One by one, the boys took the cards. Laughing and joking and teasing each other, they took the cards.
“Anything?” the one who threatened to freak out his friend with a coffin asked. He was shorter than the others and skinnier. A higher-pitched voice.
The woman laughed.
“Don’t be greedy,” she said. “Write down your name and what you want.”
He wrote the number 10, then the dollar sign.
“Ah! I messed up!” he half-yelled, laughing. “Help me! Help me!”
Slowly, all the teens took cards and started writing as the woman explained her plan, details sometimes echoed by her slim shopping partner. She was going to win the lottery and then give it back, one request at a time. She had never played the lottery before, but people keep giving her money to play — one person gave $300, her slim attendant said.
“I’m going to be on TV,” the woman said.
At first, the teens took the wrote down their wishes tentatively, indulging the crazy lady with the half-purple hair, but soon they were laughing and joking and peppering her and each other with questions.
“What are you going to ask for? A Baconator from Wendy’s?”
“Can I ask for a new Adidas jacket?”
When the skinnier, younger one handed back the card with the corrected request for $10, the woman ripped off the field of lilacs from the cover of the card
“That’s your IOU,” she said.
The boy blinked a few times, touched by the permission to dream.
“It’s just so comforting and kind,” he said to no one.
Finally, slowly, inevitably, one of the teens — I can’t remember which — asked the young woman what she wanted.
“There’s this guy who I love,” she said. “And I’m going to say his name on TV. I’m going to say, ‘Hey, I love you. Buy me a drink.’”
“They won’t let me claim it. I’ve got no money in the bank. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, buy me a drink. I’ve got $2!’” she said, trailing into reverie.
I thought of her slim companion following her with bags and hoped to god he was gay.
One by one, the boys returned their cards to the woman, who took their dreams and folded them away in her bag.
She’ll win the lottery tomorrow. She’ll return all the wishes like a genie with a modded-up purple-streaked ’50s hair. The guy will buy her that drink. The slim man will find someone new to follow. The teenager’s hospital visit will be peaceful and coffin-free. The boys will grow into kind, full-hearted men and always remember this strange, touching moment brought by a strange, touching woman on the eastbound #66 bus.
That’s what I want.