She told me her name was Lanae, but that the “n” was silent. Her suitcase was a green plastic bag, and she plopped in down on the bus seat beside me using her suitcase as a seat, and told me her life story.
I was on my way home, like pretty much every day after, working on some final touches for one of my books. The bus makes a regular stop at the Census Bureau, just east of the Suitland metro stop in D.C., and that’s where she boarded.
I reminded her of a friend of hers, she said, a judge. Did I know him?
I know the names of two judges. One is Judy and the other is Lisa. Neither of them look like me. Of course I didn’t.
“It’s OK Sweetie. Don’t worry.”
She called me that a number of times. I could’ve baked fudge with all of her sweeties. And it wasn’t just me. After her suitcase seat became too ungainly for her taste, she stood up and put in on the floor, bumping one of our bus neighbors in the process. He was Sweetie, too.
She was black and slim and something of a nervous, impatient soul. The straps of a lime swimsuit peeked out from beneath her sleeveless polyester dress that reached the tops of the tall shoes that hurt her feet.
No, she didn’t tell me her feet hurt. She told everyone. She’d swiped the phone from her traveling friend in the seat across the aisle and made a call that might have been to one of her kids or her brother. After the call, I was pretty sure it wasn’t.
“Are you hungry? You want something to eat? Maybe there’s a place there somewhere close-by. And we’ll get some beer.”
And she kept apologizing. “Sorry. Sorry about that. I am sorry. I apologize. And my feet,” she announced to the entire 55 passengers on our way home from work. “They’re killing me. No, it’s these shoes–”
She seemed unfamiliar with the concept of an inside voice.
“I can’t talk a lot,” she said into the phone. “I’m on a bus. No. I said…”
And she repeated herself. A busted inside voice unit with volume control on the fritz.
“I just want to make sure we’re on the same page,” she told the phone.
She repeated that a number of times, too, before she returned the phone.
I was still on the same page. I was working on the final page to my ebook “Tuck” trying to get a graphic of playing cards to look just right, a blackjack and a joker.
She glanced over at my screen, and read off the last line faster than I thought possible.
Lanae was born in 1978 she told me, and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. Best way to get called on in math class? Get caught sleeping. Apparently she’d done it a time or two. But fighting with a classmate that ended up with her broken leg got her a suspension and a reason not to go back.
We had a conversation about spelling, too. “If you miss one letter, it’s wrong. A big fat ZERO,” she said.
I asked about partial credit. Turns out she wasn’t really a partial credit kind of woman, and she didn’t live in a partial credit kind of world.
She filled me in on her family history. Lots of names with unique spellings and, apparently, silent consonants. Babies and daddies all over creation, some of them passed on. I found it hard to keep track. We did agree on one thing. We both found decaffeinated coffee a strange concept. She’d visited her grandmother and found the coffee inventory barren with the exception of decaf.
“That’s just crazy,” she told me, bouncing in her seat.
What did she want? The same things we all want. First, she wanted to own her own home in D.C. Then she wanted to start a business. She wasn’t sure what it might be. Would she serve real coffee?
That was one thing she was certain about. She wanted the coffee there to be free. She had a big smile on her face, thinking about it.
She’s a restless spirit born in the wrong decade. A citizen of the world, talking with everyone, believing none of them and always getting by one way or another. She’d be right at home hitching a lift on a tramp steamer; floating down-river on a Mississippi steamboat; or riding the last train out of town. She’d sit on the back step of the caboose, a sardonic smile on her face and a middle finger extended to a population that never understood her and never cared to try.
I wished her good luck. She said it was nice to meet me. I wondered to myself if that might be “Ice to meet you,” since the Ns were silent. As she walked across the parking lot trailing her companion, her green suitcase bag tilting her shoulders to one side, I thought to myself that the word “character” has no Ns either. And that fit well. She was a character, and of all the things in the world she was, silent was not one of them.