Originally written in 2010 as part of a writing exercise at college.
Edna adjusted the silver watch around her thin, bony wrist. The watch always seemed to slip around her arm and turn upside down. She squinted through her bifocals and tried to make out the time: about three minutes to five. Her bus would be along soon, and she knew Dolores was fighting with Mr. Tibbs again. Imagining the scene, Edna pulled her purple and orange wool-knit sweater tighter around her arms.
Mr. Tibbs was likely sitting in the back of the bus like Rosa Parks, although unlike Rosa Parks, he was neither black nor a champion of anything. Mr. Tibbs always paid to get on the bus, but getting him off was the problem. He liked to sleep in the very back, as he was likely doing now, and the bus drivers often forgot about him. He planned it that way, of course.
Mr. Tibbs routinely woke up fifteen minutes to five and demanded to be taken home free of charge. A heavy-set lady named Dolores, middle-aged with salt and pepper hair, drove bus #42 five days out of seven. She knew Mr. Tibbs’ performance better than he did.
“We’ve got one more stop, Mr. Tibbs. If you’d please sit down, I’d be happy to take you home after that. You know very well how the bus system works.”
“Yes, and ‘very well’ is precisely how it doesn’t!”
Edna could quote Mr. Tibbs’ lines almost as well as Dolores. Although the old man rarely changed his formula, Edna wondered if he would try something new today. He had been talking about adding a new “wrinkle” to things. Dolores was impossibly calm and polite as she spoke.
“If you don’t get off at your stop Mr. Tibbs, it’s not our fault. We announce every upcoming stop a minute in advance. If you had been awake—”
“If I’d been awake, I wouldn’t have gotten on this bus in the first place! Lousy public transportation system. It’s my tax dollars at work, and what do I get for it?”
Mr. Tibbs always wore a dirty blue overcoat with brown elbow patches and a white polo shirt underneath. Curly silver hair stuck out of his ears and sprouted atop his head like an onion. His jowls drooped as though stuffed with cotton balls. Edna guessed he was a little older than she was, possibly in his seventies and getting dotty.
She pulled back her mitten and read her watch again. Bus #42 pulled up alongside the curb at exactly 5:04pm, the door opening to the sound of squeaky brakes. Mr. Tibbs’ voice, a frail and scratchy wheeze, spilled out before him as he took each step one at a time.
“I’ve had enough! I’m getting off right here. I may freeze to death on the sidewalk, but so help me Jesus, I’ll keep my dignity! Oh, hello, Edna.”
“Hello John,” she answered, her voice a pleasant chirp. Edna collected her maroon bag of knitting needles and stepped onto the bus as Mr. Tibbs stepped off. Halfway up, she turned and said, “You’re not going to walk home, are you? I have a little extra money.”
“Oh, no, that’s… well, that’s… no, I couldn’t, really.”
Edna had begun carrying a little extra change ever since she met Mr. Tibbs, back when she had believed he needed it. Even though they were friends now, she still had to entreat him at least twice before he would accept. Dolores never let on that she knew about their arrangement.
“It’s the principle behind it,” Mr. Tibbs told Edna on the drive home. He always had money, and he always paid her before reaching his stop. Whatever point Mr. Tibbs was trying to make, both Dolores and Edna suspected that he didn’t really understand it himself. Or if he had, he didn’t now. Edna didn’t mind though, as she enjoyed his company.
A few minutes later, Dolores picked up the intercom and the bus pulsed with her voice.
“We’re at your stop, Mr. Tibbs. Thank you for using public transportation.”
“Public transportation my eye!” he said. Then he turned around, winked at Edna, and shuffled off the bus. Edna waved to him through the window. He must have forgotten about the new “wrinkle” he had mentioned. Slightly disappointed, Edna opened her bag of knitting needles and resumed working on a blue sock.
“Oh well,” she muttered. “Maybe tomorrow.”