I'd just crowded into my seat, squeezing between my knees the bottle of water giving life to my bunch of sunflowers wrapped in plastic. A man boarded the rapid bus behind me, and I watched as he stepped past his fellow passengers who were huddled in a bunch, tapping passes on the fare reader or ironing dollar bills against their pants before guiding them into the machine.
The man got close to the driver and leaned in, asking if the driver needed to see his card.
"No, it's cool. I know you," the driver replied.
The man's face broke into a toothy, beaming smile. "He knows me!" he announced as he made his way down the bus aisle.
Taking his seat midway through the double carriage, he arranged his bright blue earphones and pushed play on his potable CD player. It wasn't long before the sound of his singing(?) filled the bus.
People looked over their shoulders, trying to identify the source of what could barely be called a song, more an off-key mrowling-howling-growling that hit occasional notes of pain and momentary highlights of someone recovering from a root canal yet attempting to learn to incant a sermon in Hebrew.
But when the crooner's critics noted that he was developmentally disabled, they turned back in their seats, resigned to what is with a grimace of annoyance. Maybe actual aural pain.
"I don't know this tune," my seatmate, a man with wavy Paul McCartney hair and a nervous, sweet smile whispered to me, pained.
"Likely not a top 40 hit," I replied.
A few blocks and bars of UNIMAGINABLY bad music later, McCartney leaned his head toward me again. "Are you tempted to harmonize?"
I laughed, and to illustrate how god-awful my own voice is, told him the story of how my father, a pastor, had a naturally off-key singing voice, but loved to sing to God so much, he just belted it out, without a care. Until the ladies down in the nursery watching the babies, who listened to the Sunday sermon via the mic my dad wore during the service, made a request. "Could you turn off the mic during the singing?' they asked sweetly. "You're making the babies cry."
My father turned off the mic, took a singing lesson or two, and continues to sing songs of love, in a more tear-free key. And though the idea of harmonizing with this bus-serenader triggered visions of the BEST FLASH MOB EVER in my head, you know, the one where the whole bus joins in and makes sense and real song of this man's guttural whining, bringing tears to the eyes and reminding millions of YouTube viewers how we're all connected in the greater song called life, it didn't happen.
Instead, at the next stop, the driver walked back to the minstrel's seat. Driver Mike, let's call him, smiled, leaned down, and said in a low voice only audible to me and the man, "Hey, man. I know you like to sing. But it's really loud, so I have to ask you to stop."
Immediately flustered, the man started apologizing and growing agitated, but Mike the driver calmed him. He stood up straight, looked him in the eye, and said, "It's all good. You're my friend," before making his way back to the front of the bus.
That's the song Mike and the bus-minstrel left me singing tonight. That it's all good, as long as someone takes the time to look you in the eyes and say, "I know you."
(And tells you to keep it down, you're making the babies cry.)