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At the door stands a boy-he can't be more than 20 years old. The fine hair on his upper lip and chin give away his youth. He wears a pair of Levi jeans and a T-shirt that says "Barbados" across the front. His clothes have a very worn look: dirt and grease rubbed into the fibers. At each stop he hops off the bus before it stops moving and hollers the destination to potential passengers. "La Brigada La Brigada La Brigada!"
The bus begins to pull away and he grabs the bar and pulls himself aboard. Riding on the bottom step he looks at the pictures on the open door. There are four cards with Barbie and about 10 stickers with Winnie the Pooh and friends. The boy pulls something out of his pocket and slides it between the rubber lining and the glass on the door. It's a valentine of some sort. He pulls another from his pocket and does the same thing. This one is a valentine card with a photo of two kittens on it. He handles them with such care, smoothing the corners and letting his eyes linger on the photo of the kittens.
I'm curious. His actions seem to be rare for a boy his age. Who are they from? A girlfriend? Perhaps a daughter? What's the story behind the valentines on the door?
I want to ask him, to talk to him, to hear his story. "But Jill, your Spanish isn't that great. He won't understand you. If he does, you won't understand his response. Don't bother." My mind fights with itself. In the moment of decision I ask him, "Who are they from?" motioning toward the valentines. He looks at me. "What?" "Who are they from?" I try again. He nods with the hint of a smile, touches the valentines again.
I sigh. What made me think that my Spanish was good enough to talk to the boy on the bus? It's not like he would open up and talk to the strange gringa about his novia, the beautiful girl he wants to marry but whose parents won't allow because he is of Mayan descent. What made me think he had a story like that anyway?
I begin to feel more and more frustrated by the fact that the language can prevent me from making such connections, when he turns and motions for me to sit down on the raised part of the floor, right next to the driver. To me, that seat is the seat of honor. You don't have to hang onto a seat or a pole on the ceiling for dear life, you don't have to be crushed by the people in the aisle. You can just sit and watch the world go by until you get off.
"Gracias," I say, and take a seat there. Maybe there was some kind of connection after all. Maybe the fact that I simply tried to talk to him made a difference. Who knows.
At the first stop in La Brigada, half of our group got off. I wait with the others for the third stop because it's closer to our houses. When the first group got off, I felt a tap on my shoulder. "You getting off here?" asked the doorkeeper boy. "No," I say. He looks at me, looks at the crowd of gringos that just got off, and gives a slight shrug of his shoulders.
At my stop, I get off with the others and flash a quick smile at the boy. "Gracias," I say. He smiles back. Perhaps language is simply a commodity after all.
Journal by Jill Leaman