Parents are supposed to teach their kids not to talk to strangers. I’m not sure if my parents ignored that lesson in safety or if I refused to hear it, but either way, I have grown up to love talking with strangers. The thrill of saying our first shared words and watching conversation unravel; the fulfillment of attaching a name to a face; the joy of finding commonalities with previously mysterious strangers — it’s a beautiful concept to be welcomed into a stranger’s life, into their story, if only for the 10 minutes we share on a city bus.
_ _ _
My hands rested in my pockets and my feet shuffled to the beat of Coffey as my lips curled up over my rosy cheeks. The wind blazed through 3rd and Pike, rustling my hair and widening my smile, as the 17 arrived. I breathed it in one more time — the busy people, fast cars, and roaring buses, forcing their way through crowds and traffic, ignoring lights, ignoring the wind, ignoring each other; the smell of stale smoke and a whiff of weed from the gangsters and homeless delinquents; the unrelenting wind, barreling through tall buildings and into my cold lungs. I took in the sweet elements of my imperfect city and stepped up into the bus, sitting down in a familiar green seat. Other riders shoved through the crowd, unaware of the people around them, and made their way to their own green seats, selecting the place of least conflict or conversation. But I smiled at them as they marched up those first steps and made their way through the narrow aisle. I smiled eagerly, awaiting someone, anyone, who would reciprocate my desire to befriend a stranger.
“Hola,” he said to me.
“Hola,” I said back.
“She speaks Spanish!” he said to his friend while chuckling in his hearty voice.
How many times can a smile grow? I wondered; mine grew again. He overestimated my ability to speak his language, but I didn’t tell him my secret. I met Mario and Alberto that morning. Mario asked me for a hundred dollars and Alberto just shook his head.
“He’s joking,” said Alberto.
“I know,” I assured him, smiling again. “So, what do you guys do?”
They told me about being fishermen and how work was hard to come by. Mario asked for a hundred dollars one more time. I told him I didn’t even have 50¢, so then we talked about family. They told me about brothers and sisters and family in Mexico and El Salvador; and they told me how they missed their families but Seattle was their home.
Mario mumbled something in Spanish to Alberto, their eyes glancing at me, then back to each other. Alberto told me Mario thought I had nice eyes.
“Thank you,” I told him.
He mumbled in Spanish again. Alberto laughed. “No,” he said to Mario, shaking his head.
I asked what they were talking about. Alberto hesitantly told me Mario thought I had the kind of eyes that changed color.
“Si,” I replied. “Sometimes green, sometimes brown, and sometimes a little of both.”
“I told you!” he said excitedly, hitting Alberto’s arm. Alberto smiled.
Ding. They reached their stop.
“Nice to meet you, Hannah. It was good to talk with you,” said Mario.
“Nice to talk with you too,” I said as I waved to the strangers who became my friends between Pike St. and Westlake Ave.
_ _ _
I met Shawnti on the 41 while laughing at the ridiculousness of those who complained about overcrowding. If only they could see public transportation in Japan or India, we agreed.
I met Kris on the 347 — a conversation that started with overcrowding and ended with, “see you next Tuesday,” was filled with dreams of travel and a mutual desire to know and experience culture in a way that changes us.
I met Mark somewhere on 3rd while waiting for the 511. We went out to coffee together and he told me about his family and his old life before the streets.
_ _ _
Tonight I wonder who I’ll meet tomorrow.
I meet them on the streets, on the bus, at the station, on the airplane. We exchange names and smiles and for 10 minutes we share life together. I may not have the luxury of time, but I have the joy of letting strangers become friends, of sharing in their stories, if only for a while.
I love hearing these beautiful stories, and I hope in our 10 minutes they glimpse a bit of Christ in mine.