Just / Part II
It was an addiction really. The way Nicky sat on bus benches even though she wasn’t waiting for a bus. She was still overweight and still trying to sweat herself to death, but everyone needs a break from their gradual suicide.
"Hey," she’d say to a stranger with headphones in. "HEY!" she’d say louder.
Nine times out of ten people would ignore her. Until the day she made a friend with the man who said “hey” back.
"Hey," she said to Jimmy before she knew his name.
"Hello," he said.
Nicky had seen him sitting on a bus bench on the corner of 5th & Diver with his wrinkly hands folded in his lap, an Orioles baseball cap on his head and a navy blue purse by his feet. It was three in the afternoon on a Monday and Nicky needed to know where he was going, the same way some people need a cigarette. If she didn’t know, she’d be irritated the rest of the day.
Jimmy said he didn’t have a destination in mind. He was just planning on hopping the first bus that came by and riding it for a while. Take a nap, maybe. Nicky, naive Nicky, asked him how he could possibly nap in such a dirty place. Didn’t he worry about germs getting in his mouth while he snored? She was confident Jimmy was a snorer because she assumed that of all old people.
"Ain’t no germ I haven’t met by this age," Jimmy reassured her. "Besides, I don’t snore."
"I don’t believe you," Nicky said, "but okay."
Jimmy told her he’d never ridden in a real car his whole life. For sixty-three years he’d managed to train, plane, bus and bike and he’d only been late twice. Jimmy told Nicky that he grew up in a one bedroom apartment with his mom and two sisters. It was small but their imaginations made it bigger. They’d paint new landscapes on the walls almost every day. They’d live in a jungle, on a beach, in the sky. Even on a planet once that they called “Homeraneum.”
Nicky asked him if they ever lived in a castle.
"Ha!" said Jimmy. "Did we ever. My younger sister had a thing for stone."
She was dead now though, Jimmy explained. He had painted the inside of her casket the color yellow because the only place she liked living more than a castle was on the sun.
"How come you don’t have a job?" Nicky asked.
"Because I don’t want one."
"How can you afford your life?"
"Because I’m rich."
"And you don’t have a car!"
Jimmy laughed. ”Why be alone when you can be with twenty people,” he said.
Nicky admitted that aside from meeting strangers on bus benches, she preferred to be alone. That way, no one could disappoint her.
"If you don’t let people disappoint you every once in a while," he said, "then you’ll never know what it means to care."
A long bus with an accordion in the middle powered up to their bench.
"But I don’t care," Nicky said as the doors of the bus opened and Jimmy stood.
"Everybody cares, darling. Especially those who say they don’t."
Jimmy waved a nice little wave to Nicky, tipped his hat and disappeared onto the bus. Nicky didn’t know how to feel. Jimmy might have been the only friend she’d ever have and now he was gone. She looked down by her feet and noticed he’d left his navy blue purse behind. Without hesitating, she looked inside and found only a picture of who she assumed to be a younger Jimmy, his two sisters and their mom. Nicky smiled, put the purse over her shoulder and started walking home.
"This is the best day of my life," she said to herself next to a stranger.
"Why’s that?" the stranger asked.
And just like that, Nicky had another friend.