I’d say she’s about 250 pounds and carries it all in her middle. There are three children with her, all under the age of seven I’m sure. The smallest one sits on her lap, grasping onto the roll of fat just below her breast as he sleeps soundly. She’s looking off into space, I wonder what she’s thinking. I feel sorry for her. She looks poor, on welfare probably. She’s wearing a faded red shirt with the Salvation Army’s logo on it with white letters under it spelling out, I’M LIVING PROOF THE SALVATION ARMY WORKS. Her jeans are too small and have holes in the knees. They probably used to be black, but now they’re a worn gray. The child on her lap is wearing a large shirt and diapers. Nothing else, except for the dirt caked around his feet. The child sitting directly to her left has on brown overalls and a ripped 49ers T-shirt underneath. His shoes look too big for him, but at least he has a pair. The third child, a girl, is sitting next to him. She’s wearing a pink dress and a huge smile. I wonder if she knows how bad things are for her. But she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s wearing a pretty dress and sandals, and that’s all that matters to her.
I, on the other hand, have a great many things on my mind. I never thought of myself as someone who took things for granted, but looking at this woman with her children, I realize that I do. I’ve never thought twice about being employed and having my health. What would I do if I were in her place, wearing the same Salvation Army shirt? Would I be smiling or would I be looking down, waiting for the ground to open up and swallow me whole? Never. But you should never say never. For the past two weeks I have been living with the possibility that I may be HIV positive. Luckily, by the grace of God, the test came back negative. The ground’s not opening up yet.
The sleeping child on the woman’s lap whimpers as she adjusts her large body. The child’s head falls forward and he is back asleep. The mother pokes the other two children, who were falling asleep. She points to the bell cord and the little girl pulls on it. The boy in the middle stands up and starts to jump in place. Without even moving her gaze away from the front of the bus, the mother yanks on his overalls until he sits back down.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and I know I was meant to be on this bus, in this exact seat, sitting across from this specific family. But why? When I was a child I used to ask, “what would I do ‘if’.” Now I’m asking, “what will I do ‘when’.” Who knows what tomorrow will bring and I should soak in the good news of my test and be thankful that I have a job and a roof over my head.
At the next stop, the woman and her three children get off the bus. I watch the family as the bus pulls away. The woman is hoisting the infant over her shoulder and saying something to the little boy. The girl has run ahead of the rest and is skipping down the street. She is oblivious to the hardships around her. All she needs to make her skip is a pretty pink dress and a smile.