The gift of conversation

As I have said before, I listen to people. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and as someone with ADHD, it is a matter of turning lemons into lemonade: I can’t help but hear everything that is going on around me, so I might as well pay attention to it. My Facebook posts that get the most attention have long been the ones where I paste snippets of conversations I hear.

Like this scene I recorded a few years back on the bus. What I love about it is that it is really obvious the bus driver doesn’t know the lady in question, and yet he is determined to be a participant in the conversation. There is an art to conversation, the give and the take of it, and this guy is a master.

There is also some emotional labor involved in this. He could have just said, “Never heard of her” and it been the end of it, but he took the pains to have the conversation. That is a gift, I think. It made the world better, having the conversation that day – well, better than it would have been to not have it.

* * *

A weary looking, soft spoken black man, approximately 70 years, old gets on the bus in front of Glenwood Towers, a retirement community for low-income peoples. He boards the bus, says “Hey!” to the bus driver and shuffles to a seat. He looks across the aisle and smiles at me with a smile that can only be made when the one smiling owns less than 10 teeth. I smile back, and he responds by settling down into a posture that somehow speaks simultaneously of resignation and assurance.

The bus sits idle for a few minutes as we make up time gained by so few pick-ups at this hour of the morning.

“Hey! Bus driver?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you from Raleigh?”

“Yes, sir. All my life.”

“Do you know a lady named Betty Simpkins*?”

“Hmmm. I know some Simpkins, but I can’t call a Betty.”

“Well, she just passed.”

The driver looks across the street and sees the ambulance and fire apparatus parked in the lot of the apartment building.

“Oh, just now? Is that why the ambulance is there? ”

“Yeah. She was a nice lady.”

“Well, I know some Simpkins, but I am not calling a Betty. Did she ride the bus?”

“Some, but she had a car. You would probably know her if you seen her.”

“Maybe.”

“I wish I had a pitchur to show you of her. She was a beautiful woman – you would recognize her right off.”

“Was she sick long?”

“Not too long. It got bad at the end, though.”

“Well, I’m sure sorry. I’m gonna pray for her family.”

“Yeah, me too.”

The driver starts the bus and pulls back into traffic, and the old man closes his eyes and puts his head back and softly begins to snore.

*Her name was not Betty Simpkins; I changed it out of respect for her family.