July 13, 2020

Boy on the RIPTA

posted on: Thursday October 3, 2019

A creative shot of an aisle on a bus with seats on both sides of the photo

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

by Jay Willett ’20

The card didn’t scan at first. I panicked though I knew in the back of my mind that my credentials were fine. The RIPTA driver raised an eyebrow, and I could feel the warm sensation of sweat seeping through my sweatshirt. The machine beeped, I scuttled to a seat directly behind the handicap section. Exhaust hissed out the muffle and due to lack of motion, billowed through the open side door, choking the passengers. The older gentleman next to me sputtered and reached into his overcoat pocket for a handkerchief. There was a mother of two sitting in the open seating, her baby carriage taking up all the front space. An elderly couple grimaced as they skidded by, and the mother smiled sarcastically. Past Washington Street, the RIPTA passed brick murals, homeless villages, and Lime scooters. Heading southbound, we had to pull over for an ambulance that arrived at its destination a mere two blocks ahead. There, a bald man was toppled over, one leg crossing the other, his expression blank. Though not particularly religious, I muttered a prayer into the cups of my hands. Fire engines, police cruisers, garbage trucks, the road to Montgomery was riddled with government activity. I saw all this but glanced to the sidewalk to see cracks and crevices deeper than the pavement could convey. An ambulance zipped past the man passed out on a bench, covered in a puddle of liquid, his unconscious hand clutching a sign that read: “Homeless, hungry, please.” At the red light, most passengers looked the other way, the mother tended to her crying babies, the older gentleman sniffed and wheezed into his shoulder. I was staring at that man. A tear came down my face, and just as quickly as it appeared, I wiped it away. The engine revved and we pulled away down South Main. That day I had seen an old friend, his face grizzly with facial hair, tired from a long day at work. When I came home from kindergarten, I’d jump on his stomach and laugh at his grumblings. Though he was reasonably annoyed, he smiled and hugged me. 15 years later, I sat among the city, watching neighbors argue over plant placement, drunks stumbling out of Admiral Liquors, and smokers lounging outside the Rhode Island Free Clinic. The baby continued to cry and didn’t cease until their stop between Douglas and Eaton. Despite the world moving, we were still, silent, and desperately alone.

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