“Hey, miss, what time is it?”
Shoot. I had sat down next to the crazy person on the bus. I knew because of a slight intonation that I had heard plenty of times on buses—a vocal shakiness unearned by years—and the way he looked—jeans and a jacket; long black hair pulled into a ponytail under a stocking cap; weathered, gruff skin.
The 825 bus was supposed to be safe, full of silent commuters taking it to their jobs in fancy skyscrapers downtown. It wasn’t the 10, where you could expect crazy and a half all day long.
But here was Crazy. Maybe he would be quiet crazy, not make-best-friends-with-strangers crazy.
I opened my book.
Soon he started to chat with the bus driver. “Hey, what suburb are we in?”
The driver didn’t understand. “The 825.”
The man asked again.
Still didn’t get it. “2014.”
I wanted to answer (“St. Anthony”), but I did not want to engage Crazy. I opened my book.
After a third try, the driver finally said we were in Northeast. Poor guy. He looked new, freshly minted. The MetroTransit gods probably gave him the 825 route because of the usual dearth of crazy.
Then Crazy heard the faint electronic strains of music—probably through someone’s headphones, I figured. “Hey, miss, is that your phone?” I shook my head, my eyes still glued to the page. “Hey, miss, is that your phone?” More vehement shaking. “Excuse me, miss, is that your phone?”
The middle-aged, pleasantly plump woman across from us answered. “No, it’s not.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hey, I like to listen to music, too—Ray Charles,” Crazy said. “She give me money / When I’m in nee-eed,” he sang in a voice not much different than his speaking voice: quavering, raspy, and toneless. “Yeah, she’s a fine girl / A friend indeed.”
Please don’t ask me for money, I silently begged. By this point I didn’t have much of an idea what was happening in Good Lord Bird. But I kept my nose in my book to look busy.
Crazy asked where we were again.
“East Hennepin,” said the newbie bus driver.
“Okay.” Crazy continued talking, mentioning something about passing out on a bus. I had wondered how he had managed to get on the 825, the usual bastion of khakis and iPhones and solitude.
I shut my book and put on sunglasses. It was sunny, so I had a decent excuse for wearing them.
By the time we reached East Hennepin and Central, the faint strains of tinny music was really starting to annoy Crazy. “Miss, is that your phone?”
“No.” I was ninety-nine percent sure it wasn’t my phone, and I wasn’t going to take it out and prove him right on the off chance that it was.
He got up to check out the situation. I flinched as he leaned toward me, sniffing around for my phone. A girl across the aisle looked at me sympathetically.
“Sir, please take a seat,” the bus driver said noncommittally.
“It’s you, ain’t it?” Crazy asked a woman a few seats back wearing headphones. “They’re really loud, you know. Does that bother anyone else?”
We all stared at our shoes, or out the window, or at our books.
A woman got on the bus and sat between Crazy and me. Oh, you’re going to regret that, I thought.
Crazy asked her, “Wanna hear a bad joke?”
“No, not today.” She started flipping through apps on her blue 5c.
We drove across the Mississippi in silence, until Crazy asked the bus driver, “Do I have a transfer left?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Can I get a free one?”
The driver didn’t answer.
An 825 regular came up the aisle as we arrived in downtown. He asked her for a transfer. “I’m sorry, I’ve got to use it myself,” she replied.
“Say, are you from Michigan? You’ve got a Detroit hat on,” she asked him.
“Oh.” Crazy took off his hat and looked at it. “No, I’m from Green Bay. Actually, I usually look like this—” He pulled the binder out of his hair and shook it out. “I’m Native.”
The bus stopped—my stop. I rose to get off. Crazy said to the woman, assuming she was leaving, “Well, you have a good day, ma’am.”
“No, I’ve got two more stops to go. I just came up here to talk to you.”
“Okay, well, sit down!” And she sat next to him.
I got off the bus.
I thought about Crazy and the woman who unnamed him the whole three-block walk to work.
Libby Stille (’13) lives in St. Paul and works in the marketing department of a children’s publishing company in downtown Minneapolis. She recommends that everyone visit the Twin Cities, but only between June and October, unless you enjoy subzero windchills and slipping on ice.