It was a regular afternoon, early summer I think. My day’s work in downtown Chicago was over, and I joined the masses headed for bus stops and el stations. Like spokes on a wheel, long lines of us would move away from the city’s center hub to our tiny patches of grass for the evening. We’d reverse and motor back, donning tennis shoes with business suits and clutching tall coffee cups, first thing next morning.
For the city, it was sort-of a quiet day. Slow, even. Early summer offered more late-afternoon sunlight and mild temperatures. The tourists in town for Navy Pier and stuffed pizza were, at 5 p.m., likely resting in their discount hotel rooms before a night out.
Shivering as I remembered winter commutes through steely, 20-degree, Windy-City misery, I welcomed the relative pleasantness.
But I was lonely.
Cities are funny like that. You have a million people in tight, tight spaces. You rarely have a square of sidewalk to yourself. Even pressed on all sides by other souls, however, we are lonely.
An important season of growth and development in my life, that was a time I needed to be alone — maybe even needed to suffer loneliness. But there were days I ached for companionship, for someone to lean into.
I decided to take the longer bus ride home, the 22 Clark. It would stop nearly every block, but I enjoyed the slow and gentle rocking and liked analyzing all the lonely people.
(Where DO they all come from? Where do they all belong?)
After a few stops, a rather, er, ample woman stepped aboard, lumbered to where I sat and dropped into the seat next to me. Her generous bottom spilled from her seat to mine; our upper arms smooched.
We were touching.
The woman turned her round face to me and offered a brief smile, then opened a magazine and ignored me altogether for the rest of the ride.
I blinked. I could feel the warmth of her thigh and arm on my thigh and arm — just gentle pressure. Her touch wasn’t intentional, intimate or friendly. But it was warm and human. Comforting. So, with few other options, I decided to sink into it.
As the bus rumbled forward, I began to grow sleepy.
I suppose I could stick with my “tight space and ample rider” story about our touching that day, but when I briefly rested my head on her cushy arm, I whispered, “Thank you.”