Bus Sketch II

Little girl looking out the bus window. She's wearing a leopard print coat.

“I gotta pee!”

Eleven heads bobbed up in unison, leaving posts unliked, candies uncrushed and videos advancing unwatched. The heads then turned to the front of the bus. Synchronized.

The toddler had been chirping away unnoticed for blocks and blocks. She was fascinated by everything rushing by, her nose pressed against the big window, her little feet hanging over the bench, her shoulders enclosed by an animal print.

She was full of style from toe to top. Starting from her black punk boots that were laced up half-way and working up to the most amazing glasses with a huge square white frame scattered with scores of little flowers, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue on stems of green. She moved with the comfort of a near two-year old who knew in her heart of hearts that she was amazing and fabulous.

She must have asked her dad for a car, because he said that he wasn’t buying her one. His response was like a scripted response that was a part of their private joke. A little bit like call and response. She babbled some sweet sounds, one of which resembled the word car. Or maybe cow. Or curl. Or cat. Or yard. But her dad knew. He delivered his line.

Nothing she said, however, was as clear as when she presented her pressing need. A cold blast of worry chilled the bus. Passengers wondered to themselves, “Will she make it?”

The mom asked her the unnecessary question that everyone wanted to know, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

The little diva nodded vigorously. Her father looked concerned that she might nod the tinkle out. The mom worked the magic of distraction, suggesting the girl sit down and asking a few unrelated questions about school. It seemed to work, or at least the tot stopped talking about needing to go.

The dad pulled the cord for the next stop, and the girl leaned over to pull it, too. The mom was on the far side of the bench and shook her head. “Just let her pull it, okay?” She was working hard to avoid a morning meltdown. The dad leaned forward to make room for the girl to grab the yellow plastic coated wire behind him. The bus lurched and the girl held on tight. Since he had already called for a stop, there wasn’t a beep when she pulled. He adroitly pointed to the Stop Requested light above her head. She was convinced that she had effected that.

Her dad picked up her and his backpacks then took her by the hand. Her mom told her she loved her and would see her soon. The girl parroted back the words–or her interpretation and execution of those words–in her little squeaky sing song.

Kisses were exchanged and there was no peeing on the bus. Ten heads returned to the phones in their hands. One followed the pair off the bus and watched them approach the daycare. That one decided to enjoy the bus like a two year old and left her phone in her bag. She turned her head to the window to watch the cars and look for cows.


Two roosters. Polish folk art.

“Do you know kielbasa?” She bewitched me and then owned me with her intense blue eyes. Eyes that were light and deep blue at the same time. Like the beginning of a night sky, with the lightest brightest blue at the horizon almost immediately becoming a deeper darker murkier and much more complex blue until it became black-blue.

I couldn’t look away. She reeled me in by calling out more food of our people.

“The haloopschi?” I didn’t get that one, but I told her I made golabki.

She held up her little Polacki hands and cupped them together. “The stuffed cabbage?” And then to the common translation, “the pigs in the blanket!?!”

I nodded. She never made them herself but her galaxy eyes lifted to the heavens to savor her memory of those cabbage rolls braised in tomato. She bored through the simple green in my own eyes and planted herself into the ethnic part of of the tribal part of my brain.

In unision we said, “pierogi.”

We both blinked and took a step back. Not because we jinxed, but because we knew that we were both–each of us–slicing through a buttery stuffed dumpling using our thought forks. We synchronously met that most pure, delicate and delicious victual in our now collective concentration. We were conjoined on the holy grail of Polish-American cuisine. You know it’s just that good when six of the items on the Buzzfeed list of Polish foods are pierogi, nos. 18-23.

Our sentences overlapped and intertwined. “My My mother aunt made them made them. So good. Oh my god!” We licked our respective lips. Hers more wrinkled at the edges than mine. Mine well on the way there, though.

She asked where I was from in the same paragraph without sentences that simultaneously shared that she was from Western Pennsylvania. I braided her words with mine, “Detroit.” We nodded, again. In unison, again. She returned to kielbasa.

“That Hillshire Farms, like what is that? Not like what we got, what we ate.” I know that we  were both cutting into the taut skin of the red sausage, of watching the fatty juices running out and of filling our nostrils with garlic forward porkiness. If porkiness is a word. But it definitely, especially when combined with smokiness, says Polish sausage.

This is the prototypical exchange of all Polish Americans. It’s always about our food and our church and our families.

“You Catholic?” I nodded. No reason to parse it out right now.

“How come you were to Ireland and haven’t been to Poland? You gotta go.”

She was a very slight woman. She was actually tiny.  A septuagenarian with a little thinning of her bleached hair that was short but wavy, especially at the ends. She made no mistakes on her makeup, not an overly and oddly lined eye, not a big pink blotch on her uplifted cheeks. Her spring sweater was a cream with a ribbon of gold around the neckline.

A newlywed, she met her husband on Match.com and was unsure about what she had done. Her partner of forty-eight years had preceded her and before he left this world, told her to be happy. She didn’t want to be lonely. So she accepted an uneasy ease with her first spouse, after spending the prior half-century with a different man.

She didn’t know her husband’s ethnicity, but he had lived in Europe for a few years, but maybe he was French? She wasn’t sure, but in her eighth decade after seventy-four years with the same name, she was figuring out how to go by a new married name. Six months into matrimony, she still went by her own name. She said she was going to change it.

In the meantime, she told me how lovely the Poles were and how her Jewish partner make the pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna of Częstochowa on his hands and knees, but her tour walked through. This story of his devotion delighted her, and me.

She took my card and said that I’d hear from her. I hope so. I hugged my new friend, she joined her delightful new husband, and we parted as the bellman opened the door onto the street.