Bus ride home

Last night when I got on the bus, four or five middle-aged women were singing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” They were sitting toward the front of the bus, smiling at each other, wearing puffy coats, and hugging their purses.

"All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games!"

I was tired, hungry, and distracted, and the singers cheered me up as I passed them on my way toward the back.

"Rudolph with your nose so bright
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Their heads bobbed back and forth. I sat down and pulled out a newspaper.

Suddenly, from the back of the bus, three young girls erupted in a full-throated gospel refrain, “Jesus, sa- aaa- ave me . . .” I craned my neck to see one of the girls in a furry pink coat singing at the top of her lungs. She was so loud that I thought she might be drunk or high. I slunk down in my seat.

The Rudolph ladies stopped singing and exchanged looks. The bus driver glanced into the rearview mirror.

“You must see a lot of weird things,” a lady in a pointy red hat said to the driver.

“Oh, yeah,” he drawled over his shoulder, “I could write a book.”

Pink Coat stopped singing. “Hey, lady in the red hat!” she yelled. “Lady in the red hat, God hates gossipers! Stop talking about us!” Up front, the lady in the red hat set her jaw and looked out the window.

Pink Coat and her friends started singing again, “Jesus, oh, Jesus my Savior!” After a moment, the Rudolph ladies began chatting about shopping and cooking.

“You! You in the blue coat!” Pink yelled again. “Stop talking about us!”

Everyone fell silent. I settled farther down into my seat. For the next ten minutes, Pink Coat and her friends continued to yell belligerent comments and sing songs about the love of God. I thought about the power of language and music to shift mood.

Finally, a man with bristly gray hair stood up and turned around. “You should respect your elders!” he called out. The girls burst into hysterical laughter and ducked down behind the seats.

The bus stopped, and I stepped out into the cold and quiet.