He had been stabbed before. Shot three times, patched up the wounds himself. He grinned as I imagine a Vietnam veteran does, half a century removed from his war.
His left arm shook like a detached victim of Parkinson’s. And rather than carry the stub of a cigarette in his less nervous right hand, he kept it shaking in his left. The smoke trailed backwards as I looked at the dusty bus schedule, plastered to the side of the bus station.
“I just need to get to Luke’s,” he muttered several times over, searching for more words that were never found. “They’ll take care o’me. Ya see I was down by the library last night, and this guy come up to me askin’ for money. I ain’t got none, so I told him, and he stabbed me. Just¬—“ He stuttered, paused, and stared at the oncoming traffic. The moment held its own dramatic intermission.
“—just stabbed me. No good reason. But I rented this motel room, just across the way…” As he mentioned it, his body started trembling. His rarefied white hair and prickly beard clung to his face for warmth. His entire black, skinny, neglected body shook in its place. “…I patched those wounds up myself. But I gots to see a doctor. I figger I go to St. Luke’s. They’s take good care o’you there.”
He turned to me, looking straight in my eyes without fear or embarrassment. “You got money for the bus?” I didn’t. So I told him so, sheepishly shrugging my head and lifting my hands up in defeat. I had nothing for the healing. No way to patch this broken man’s life together. Nothing but an iPod that I clenched feverishly in my pocket. iPods aren’t for bus fare. “I’m sorry, I don’t,” I said.
He wasn’t phased. He turned again to stare at the rhythmic rush of cars racing down Lincoln Avenue. There wasn’t a shock that registered, and there was no sign of disappointment. I had not been the one to deprive him of care. Or I had been one of a countless many. “It’s alright, maybe I can talk the bus driver into givin’ me a ride. Cuz I ain’t got no money, I just—just like I told the guy at the library. Maybe the bus driver’ll give me a ride.”
I nodded, glancing back over my shoulders at the bus schedule just in time to see the bus arrive. It glided to a stop in front of us, and I watched the lanky, confused, and shaking black man lift his body into the bus, trailing an old woman laden with grocery bags. I stood behind him as he asked the explained his wound to the bus driver.
“Bus driver, you see, I got stabbed last night, and I don’t got no money, but I need to go to the hospital. I just need to take this bus to the hospital, then I’ll be ok.”
As I climbed the last few steps into the bus, flipping open my wallet to show the driver my bus pass, I saw his hand impatiently wave the wounded convict on. “One ride per day! That’s all you get,” he said, quickly closing the doors, eyeing the rearview mirror, and pulling back into the buzz of traffic.
We drove quickly; there were many stops to reach that day, many broken people to listen to. Three stops later, the wounded black man stepped off the bus. “Thank you, sir!” he hollered back through the narrow doors as he ambled out onto the street. It was the center of town, Civic Center Station.
And as we pulled away, my eyes grazing the men huddle in garbage bags on the wet park floor in front of the Capitol, I realized: Our bus went nowhere near St. Luke’s Hospital.