Once a week I roll aboard the 35 bus for the hilly, harrowing ride to tutor Paulino. The latter is nine, maybe 10, years old. He is behind in reading. But we are under very little pressure, so Paulino and I play checkers. If nothing else, we will develop some rapport. And both of us may learn, and relearn, the rules. I had forgotten them. Paulino never seems to have cared very much. The first time we had a go at checkers, he moved the pieces forward and back, traversing as many squares as took his fancy. Can’t have this, I told myself. Discipline. Achtung.
So now we go about playing in our very unpressured way, winning and losing and talking. He recently told me I was a very nice person. I told him he was too. It is all going swimmingly.
Which explains why I was sitting on the 35 bus one afternoon when the woman opposite turned to tell me that Jesus loved me. I gave her a smile and looked dead ahead. Important not to say anything. Equally important not to be terribly reactive one way or the other.
This was a mistake.
“Someday Jesus is going to heal all the people in wheelchairs,” she observed. “You will walk.”
“I hear that all the people who are walking are going to be in wheelchairs.” I gave her a knowing smile.
She thought about this for a nanosecond. “I didn’t hear that,” she said.
“You have to listen carefully,” I said.
I wasn’t sure where this was going. I knew were the 35 bus was going and when I was getting off it.
“Would you like one of these?”
She was holding a copy of The Watchtower, a publication I have seen before, doubtless. I think it is a Jehovah’s Witness magazine. Why I think this or why it matters is really irrelevant.
“I gave at the office,” I said.
She regarded me blankly. “It’s free.”
“There is the opportunity cost,” I told her.
“Or there.” I feigned a great interest in the bus windshield.
My sensation is bad in the right hand. I can’t feel light touch or discern surfaces well. But there was something touching my knuckles. And in my peripheral vision, the woman could be seen leaning forward. That she was attempting to hand her Watchtowerto someone with curled fingers and a splint was one thing. That she had targeted the most obviously affected limb was another.
“You might want to wash that,” I told her. “This disease isn’t all that contagious. Except for my skin.”
She pulled the cord, the bus stopped, and she was gone. Once out the door, I gave her a big wave through the window. Then, as an afterthought, I blew her a kiss. She either ignored me or did not see. Love, I wanted to tell her, comes at you all sorts of ways.