The No. 66 Chicago bus to Navy Pier wasn’t so packed the woman couldn’t find a seat.
She was short and middle aged, a bustle of blonde happy. Her hair was close-cropped in that fashion for women of her age and was being dyed tanner and tanner in an effort to keep up with the gray. She wore a striped sleeveless T-shirt and shorts, the gear of a woman out for a day of tourist fun.
Clutching a map of downtown and joking in some Eastern European language to her friend, she plopped down next to a nervous, nerdish man clutching a messenger bag in his lap.
Her seatmate was an urban professional type, midway between young and middle aged. A bit of gray at the temples brought out the boyish, Howdy Doody freckle face. His eyes were greenish, an earthy contrast to the deep blue shirt and dark red tie.
He was fighting a losing battle trying to keep a flop of brown hair out of his eyes.
The woman looked at him for nearly a minute before she spoke. He tightened his shoulders and ran his hand through his hair to keep the flop back as he felt her peer. He didn’t look back.
“So do you work downtown?” she suddenly said in a strong Chicago accent.
The man looked surprised for a moment, jarred by the unprovoked conversation on public transit. He turned to her, paused a second and gave an almost imperceptible shrug, as if he decided to roll with it.
“Yeah,” he said. “First day.”
“Oh, really? Where.”
The bus rumbled past the YMCA where the men sit outside in wheelchairs.
“Are you a professor?”
The man chuckled.
“I guess I’ll have to get used to people calling me that.”
“Oh!” she said. “It’s your first day first day. What are you teaching?”
“Communication and Ethics,” the man said.
He looked up at the digital display over the bus driver. He pulled the cord next to him as the woman asked if he was nervous.
“Yeah,” he said to her question.
“Gotta go. Here’s my stop,” he said to the next part.
She smiled warmly and wished him luck. He smiled back warmly and said “Thank you.”
It’s a nothing story, really. A brief conversation between two strangers who will never see each other again. Happens every day on the bus.
But the bit of kindness the woman shared with the man touched me. It made me briefly happy in that way the fashionably cynical write off as naive. This woman wanted a conversation and got one. The man didn’t realize he wanted a conversation until he found himself having one. It was simple and kind, like life can be.
Plus, she made me feel better on my first day at the new job.