I was on the bus home after a very long day, when I found myself seated among three homeless neighbors on their way to a church dinner. They started out talking about their tents and their setups, but seemed to have a shifting sense of what their respective roles were as to each other. I found it interesting to ponder those roles and our underlying assumptions about how we should treat each other based on what we call each other. Mother. Sister. Friend.
Man One was sitting next to Woman. He seemed to be closer to her than she wanted and she was pushing at him as he tried to drunkenly drape himself around her. But she seemed to be holding her own. As I quietly observed and considered whether to offer help, she suddenly got up and moved across from me. We made eye contact and smiled at each other. Then she rolled her eyes and indicated, get a load of that guy! Huh! I nodded in sympathy. Men. Argh.
Man One started yelling at her and telling her to get her ass back to where he was. She refused, and they argued across the bus for a while, but he didn’t actually get up to approach her, so we all just waited. He kept bossing her around until she finally said, “Dude. You ain’t my pimp. You can’t tell me what to do!”
Then she struck up a conversation with Man Two who was also heading up to dinner. Man One was very upset by this marked attention, and there was a lot of tough talk. I could see other passengers subtly shifting in their seats and trying to decide how to interact, if at all.
Finally, Man One called out to Man Two, “You keep the fuck away from her! She’s my wife!”
People tensed up and watched. Then Man Two calmly said, “She may be your wife, but she’s My Sister, so you just leave her the fuck alone.”
There was a slight ripple, like a breeze through birch trees, through our section of the crowded bus. It felt almost like a collective decision on whether to clap. Then everyone seemed to relax and go back to zoning out as the bus mounted the hill toward home.
The Woman (now known as My Sister) was very grateful and thanked Man Two for standing up for her. She told him he was a Real Man who knows how to be a Man. He told her it was his pleasure. I could see on his face that he felt really good about what he had said.
Man One not so much. He got off at the next stop and once the bus started pulling safely away, he pounded on the door and called out a fight challenge to Man Two, calling him a “Motherfucker” and telling him to get the fuck off the bus right then and “fight like a man”.
Man Two was happier to stay on the bus and accompany My Sister to the church dinner, and I hope they thoroughly enjoyed it. I went home to my own dinner thinking about my sisters on the street.
I wish them all safe, and warm, and well. And the same wish goes out to their brothers, their children, and any other wanderers.