On the bus one morning I saw half a man. I mean that quite literally–he had no legs. He was in a wheel chair with a long, skinny, stuffed white trash bag hanging off the back. He was a black man, probably early fifties, and clearly in a lot of pain. His body was at a 60 degree angle from the back of his chair. I thought he might fall out, especially with the constant stop-motion of the bus, but he was holding on tight. One hand was on the edge of the bus’ folded up blue seats, the other on the arm of his chair.
Johnny. That was his name.
I could imagine his youth, when he was just a boy, but whole. His mouth was contorted in agony, but I could easily see the way it used to brighten his face with a smile.
He had a friend, a white man probably around the same age. The friend had a backpack and asked the bus at large if we had any change to spare when they got on. I gave him all my quarters. He took them gently, “Thanks, hun,” and returned to deposit at least fifty coins. He locked Johnny into the handicap spot and went to the back to find a seat. Him I couldn’t imagine in anything other than his current state. That is, until their stop was next.
Johnny’s friend reappeared right after the bus left the Blue Line, “You ready, Johnny? Our stop is next.” We stopped at Pulaski and a few people got off the bus. Johnny’s friend couldn’t unlock the wheelchair from the seats. He took the break off the wheel and reached behind the chair to mess with the mechanism, but he couldn’t get it. While his friend fumbled, Johnny was trying to pull something his friend couldn’t see. He was silent, focused on the lever that inevitably led to his freedom, but it was out of his reach. Finally, he made a sound. His voice was murky, and I couldn’t make out any actual words, but maybe I just wasn’t listening hard enough. His friend came around to the front of the chair, “This?” and grabbed the lever. Johnny made an affirming sound, looking straight at the ground from his angled position, and his friend pushed the lever towards him.
Johnny’s friend went back around to grab the chair handles. Just before they left, while they waited for the bus driver to release the ramp, Johnny’s friend looked at his reflection in the window. He angled his face down so he could see his hair, the pupils of his eyes almost disappearing behind his top lids. With both hands he fixed his slightly floppy hair in a way that reminded me of the Greasers, or the Outsiders. In that moment I could imagine what he used to be like. I even pictured him with Johnny, though I’m sure they met later on in life.
Johnny’s friend showing up in front of Johnny’s house in a beat up Cadillac, but a Cadillac nonetheless. He’d beep twice and yell, “Johnny, let’s go!” as two pretty young blonde girls giggled in the back seat. Johnny would walk out, and while the girls were focused on the fine black man on the porch, Johnny’s friend would fix his hair in the rear view mirror. Just a quick one, two before smiling ear to ear as Johnny opened the door to get in, one long leg at a time. “Let’s roll!”
Johnny’s friend rolled him down the ramp and thanked the bus driver, turning to smile at me one last time before the doors closed.