She rounded the corner with her black, colorful cane, saw Jennifer, and smiled. “Well, I haven’t seen you for a while. Where are you going this fine day?”
“It really is. I’m meeting someone to go rowing in Central Park.”
“That sounds like fun. I’m visiting my friend in Crown Heights, we’ll take in a furniture and jewelry show at the Brooklyn Museum. Will you be taking the express bus?”
“No, the B16. They’re messing up the east side with some a-thon, so we have to go in from the west. And since there’s no elevator around here, I’m getting the train at Prospect Park.”
A jay called out, then flew across the street and into an evergreen tree by the coops where the bus stop was. His blue feathers contrasted with the green of the needles. They were silent a while, looking across the street to where the river sparkled in spring sunlight, which turned it a baby blue color. Trees were budding, and sparrows kept up a constant chatter in the bushes by the coops.
A bald man went by with a little white dog on a leash, a suit in a plastic bag over his shoulder, and a cell phone in his other cheek.
“Hi Eddie,” the lady said, waving to get his attention.
“Hi Donna,” he responded, “you’re looking fabulous as always.”
“So are you, may I say. How’s Buster?”
“Roof!” said the dog, coming up to snuffle her shoes.
Jen moved away; she didn’t like dogs.
Donna petted Buster and cooed over him while Eddie chatted on the phone. Then Eddie said he had to get home, and he and Buster passed on.
“It’s funny, I shudder when I see dry cleaning. I grew up in an apartment over a dry cleaner. It had the strangest smell. The vent could be very noisy. And it created water conditions. The tenants sued, and got a break in the rent, but we had to sign a health waiver.”
After a few more minutes, Jen went to look at the schedule. “The bus is ten minutes late,” she announced.
A young woman with a stroller arrived and stood next to her and began using her phone to find out where the bus was. She didn’t leave, so Jen figured it was coming soon.
When the B16 arrived, the air conditioning had been activated. “Hi Joe,” said Donna brightly. “Are we going to the North Pole today?”
The bus driver groaned. “They set it at Cropsey. I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
The back of the bus was already half full of teens in team uniforms; several elderly Oriental people got on at the nursing home in what looked like church clothes. More teens came in at 86th Street near the high school. There were also shoppers, two of them with aides. On other trips, Jen and Donna had single seats on the right, but now they sat together in a two seat.
“Eddie is such a dear,” Donna said. “He’s from the old days – introduced himself the day I moved in, runs over to hold the door, helps with my bags. The new owners aren’t like that. They’re like shadows in the night.”
“I know what you mean,” said Jen. “We’ve been here 20 years and still don’t know any of the long time residents. As for the others, we just about say hello and they move out again.”
The bus crawled to McKinley Park, through Chinatown and into Borough Park, with an almost complete change of passengers. It turned a corner and jerked to a halt; the doors opened, and the access ramp lifted and went down. In came a fragile, white haired, pale woman, clutching her bulky walker. The front seats were now full of young adults, as were the single disabled priority seats. No one moved.
“Can someone please let this lady sit down?” Joe called out wearily. Finally he stopped the bus.
Then a white haired man in a two seat moved over to the window, and the frail lady sat on the outside, awkwardly holding onto her walker. The first time the bus jerked to a stop, the walker got out of her hands and bumped the knee of the young man across the aisle, who told her it was all right, and held the walker for her until she was ready to leave.
“Well, I never,” said Donna.
That was the start of it.
“In the old days, this would never have happened,” said Donna. She nodded vigorously several times, and her dangling earrings bobbed up and down. Her curly gray hair was cut short all over her long head, and her ears seemed almost as long as her head. “Why, I remember once I gave a smart answer to my grandpa, and my mother called out, “Donna Belleville!” Then she slapped me so hard it knocked me to the ground. I got up crying, and my brain was spinning, but nobody paid me any attention. I learned my lesson that day.”
For a minute, Donna was silent, and everyone was relieved. Then she started again. “My mother always told me to respect my elders. In those days, everyone was polite. It was yes sir, yes mam. You obeyed the teacher, the police, the boss. There’s no respect today. The idea that an elderly person would be standing while I was sitting – it wouldn’t enter my head. We’re less civilized than the savages now. They respect their elders.”
Again she stopped, but a dangerous flush had spread over her made up cheeks; her lips trembled. “And how can they learn anything in school?” she demanded in a higher key. “Worried that another student will assault them or do something to the teacher? Worried that they’ll be attacked in the bathroom? How can anyone teach? Worried about a riot in class or being shot or beaten up? Worried about being sued because a child went out in the hall and was raped? There’s no discipline today.”
Joe glanced at Donna in his mirror. The kid in front of them turned up the music on his phone. A woman in the back of the bus made a call. “I’m getting by the cemetery now,” she said loudly. Several people commented on the weather. Jen watched a hawk circle in the sky over the southern tip of Green-wood; she took out a bus schedule and began to calculate when she might be getting the B16 home. Her heart throbbed because she thought Donna might turn on her. Instead, Donna looked straight ahead and continued her dissertation.
At Crooke Avenue, Donna rang, got up a little unsteadily, and made her way to the back door. She touched the yellow tape, and the door opened for her. The voice of the bus told everyone the door was opening and closing. Briefly, all was quiet. The white haired man, whose disabled partner had departed long ago, took a hankie out of his trouser pocket and mopped his forehead. The phone lady hung up and gave a loud sigh. Two teenage girls in plaid skirts giggled.
Jen soon had a new seat mate, who put on make-up, smelled of coconut, and snapped her chewing gum at regular intervals. But Donna, at least, was in the hands of her friend, and the Brooklyn Museum.