At first, I thought it was merely loading passengers and about to leave, but as I continued down the block, it remained where it was. I resolutely refused to panic and dash for it. For one, if the driver was waiting to get back on schedule, then she'd still be waiting when I arrived at my usual walking pace. I'd left the apartment at least five minutes before the bus's usual arrival time. For another, there's a bus immediately after this one that travels the same two-block section. Even if I missed this bus, I could catch the next one -- assuming it was on schedule.
When I reached the intersection, my nerve broke, and I dashed across the street and up to the bus. "Is the bus broken down," I asked the driver as I boarded, "or were you just waiting on us?"
"Getting back on schedule. I knew I was running ahead, figured I'd better wait or I was gonna get in trouble."
Paper-reading Lady and the other regular woman -- I think I'll call her Striped-Shirt Woman, she's been wearing one every time I recall seeing her -- were in their usual places on the facing front seats. Postman wasn't there. I sat in my spot beside Paper-reading Lady and started brushing my hair. The bus still wasn't moving -- it had been well ahead of schedule.
A minute later, I saw Postman running up to the bus, his open shirt flapping. As he climbed on board, I told him, "We were waiting just for you."
"Now, bus driver," Paper-reading Lady said, primly, "You make sure he pays two dollars."
"Right. An extra dollar for making us wait," I added, while Striped-Shirt Woman giggled.
Postman ignored us, feeding his dollar into the fare slot. When he picked up his duffel again and headed for a seat, Paper-reading Lady said, "Remember, back of the bus, now."
He rustled her paper playfully in passing. "Today," he said, with some weight, "I think you've got a point." He sat further back than usual, about midway down the length of the bus. He dug into a brown paper lunch bag. "Apple?" he offered Paper-reading Lady, holding out a large red one.
"No, thank you." She glanced down at her paper for a moment, then looked back at him. "You think you're back in school? Trying to bribe the teacher?"
"You look like you could be a teacher."
"I trained to be a teacher," she said, "but I'm glad I'm not one."
"Bet you'd be a mean one. Keepin' them students in line."
"I'd need to be, if I had students like you." The bus had finally reached its usual arrival time, and now started to pull away from the curb and trundle down the road.
"Hey -- " Postman tapped his forehead. " -- I'm smarter than you think."
"Are you now?" She peered at him from over her paper, considering. "'Cause I didn't think you were very smart."
"It's not a high bar to jump over," I said, as the other passengers chuckled.
"Why's your shirt open?" Paper-reading Lady asked, suddenly. "You're out of uniform, Mr. Mailman. Disgraceful." I decided not to tell her that he usually buttons it while waiting for the bus.
He looked down at himself. "I'm glad you're not my inspection officer."
"I kicked butt when I was in the military," she said. "With my steel-toed boots."
Postman laughed. "Been a long time since I was in the army."
"You were in the army? When was that -- forty years ago?" A ripple of laughter crossed the bus again -- Postman looks mid-fortyish.
"Mm, not quite. At least thirty," he answered.
As I got up for my stop, Paper-reading Lady asked him how old he was. "I've crossed fifty-five," he answered.
"You're over fifty-five?" She sounded surprised. I was, too.
He nodded. I glanced over my shoulder at them before I got off, and Postman waved to me, wishing me a pleasant day.
I waved back, smiling. "You too."