The Driver of Bus 149

January 30th, 2011
Time: 12:59 pm
Location: Starbucks, Hengshan Lu

Today I nearly lost 30 RMB – 2 fives and 2 tens. 

I stepped out of Hongqiao Station, exit 1 and bypassed five girls, arms intertwined and giggling over the DVDs tightly wedged into the brown wooden cart.

I looked into the sun at the busses waiting in the terminal.  748s were stacked along the curb.  Large clear windows pressed into the vented metal back of the next bus.  The digital green numbers were hooded by the curve of the roof, causing the horizontal slash of the 7 to look like a 1.  Nearly my bus number if you were only glancing. 
But it wasn’t my bus.  149 wasn’t in its usual place – by the 149 sign and cold metal fences I would hoist myself onto to wait.  I almost didn’t see it – wedged at an awkward angle behind five 748s that had taken up illegal residences.

He was just beginning to close his doors when I ran up.  He grunted something to me in Chinese and I glanced over my shoulder.  Ten feet away on the hard grey pavement lay a folded note that had flown out of my pocket as I had pulled the metro card from its place. 

I stepped off the bus and ran to it and he followed, picking up another note I’d lost.  I thanked him as he handed it to me – a purple and blue note, folded into uneven layers and dog-eared in the corner. 
We climbed back onto the bus and then he gave another cry and scurried off bus 149.  I threw my head back and groaned in  an exaggerated show of self-deprecation and shook my head.  The people on the bus laughed.  He returned and handed over another folded-up 10 note.  I smiled and said thank you in Chinese and English.

In my usual perch on the dirtied plastic yellow seat with the green and white checkered pattern I ordered myself and made a show of pulling out my wallet, smoothing out each note, and carefully placing it safely within the paisley-lined walls. Only then did I look up. 

Hanging from the rear-view mirror was a caricature of a mouse standing on two legs, clad in athletic pants and an open shirt.  His blue face featured a toothy grin and squinting eyes. Behind him dangled long red tassels and fish interlaced with patterns of gold. 

As he neared my stop I stood up to wait by the door.  With a sharp jerk my ear buds wrenched from my ears and my ipod clattered to the floor.  I heard a chortle and I glanced to the mirror above the swinging mouse.  He winked at me and I laughed and gave a little wave as I stepped down.

Xin nian kuai le, driver of bus 149.  And many happy returns.

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