Riding the bus from my stop in North Nashville to my job in West Nashville,twenty-three five thirty AM city blocks. I know all the people on this bus and they know me. We’ve been riding together a long time. We each have our own individual experiences, but our histories are very similar, like family.
That’s Rev Hudson in the seat behind Richard, the driver. He’s close to retirement. Works in one of the office building near the end of the line cleaning up after and running errands for executives his grandchildren’s age. Wanted to be a preacher when he was young, didn’t work out that way, but he’s a deacon in his church. Sometimes when there’s a lull in the conversation on the bus, Rev Hudson hums, “Precious Lord take my hand,” or some other spiritual. I suspect he had a pretty good singing voice at one time, but was never told so or encouraged. On the corner of Sixty-third and Centennial Blvd. at the store where Richard stops to get a cup of coffee, Rev Hudson runs in and buys his lottery tickets. I don’t guess he ever hit, not big anyway, ’cause he’s still riding this bus. We all call him “Rev.” anyway.
Sitting across the isle from Rev. Hudson is Mrs. Lojack. The only white person on the bus. She was the prettiest girl at her high school prom. Was going to go to college and be a nurse. But instead eloped with her boyfriend in his fifty-five Chevy with the stick-in-the floor and the four-bar-check hub caps to the next county where they never got married and he honeymoon lasted til the money ran out and the rent was due. One day he revved that Chevy up, drove off and she never saw him again. Two months later she found out she was pregnant. She had two more children by two more fiance’e over the years, all grown now. She holds no resentment against her children’s fathers. But sometimes in quiet moments she closes her eyes and imagines how it might have been. We all call her “Mrs. Lojack,” anyway.
Right across form Mrs. Lojack is Jessie. Jessie works in the lumber yard up on sixty-fifth. Hard work, but he’s young, he can handle it. Out of high school three years been to the penitentiary twice in that time. Jessie was the best trumpet player ever to come through Pear High School, but his grades were too low for a scholarship, and his folks didn’t have the means, and he had no experience at saving money ’cause there never was any to practice with. So there’s a Miles Davis Demon inside him that only knows stillness on the other side of the bars where there’s an old horn and a rec yard to play it on.
Two seats down on the same side used to be where Mr. Covington sat. He died last year. We all went to his going home service. It was fine, but the preacher didn’t know anything about Mr. Covington cause Mr. Covington hadn’t been to church in years, he worked on Sundays. So the preacher just quoted scripture till he’d used up about half an hour. They didn’t open it up for anybody else to talk and we didn’t think it proper to ask. But I just know Rev. Hudson could have spoke some might fine words.
Next to Mr. Covington’s empty seat is Al. Bright young man. Wiz at math. Joined the army after high school so he could take advantage of the GI benefits and go to college when he got out. He went to Vietnam and somebody else came back with his name and his face, but not his eyes. Nobody knows what happened to him, he won’t talk about it. Got his disability check yesterday afternoon. He’s on his way to a tree about a block form the fortieth street stop that provide a little shade from the heat of the day for him and several other winos.
Across form Al is Ant Emma. Everybody calls her Ant Emma. She raised three children and and put them all through college on two minimum wage jobs and taking in washing. It’s a miracle and a shame, ’cause they all became so successful they lost their minds and forgot where they came from. The oldest boy is an Architect, living in Atlanta. The middle boy is a doctor, in Memphis. And the baby girl is an executive with a large investment company in Boston, with three children of her own, who Ant Emma has only seen pictures of, and talks to at Christmas time…when She calls Them. Still she keeps her children’s rooms fresh, just in case. Lately Ant Emma’s been climbing the steps of the bus real slow, already tired before she starts the day.
That’s Willie asleep in the corner of the back seat. He works at the lumber yard too. He don’t handle it so well, what with being in his thirties and drinking beer at his favorite joint til midnight. It ain’t likely he’ll make it to retirement so he can stay up as late as he wants and drink his beer. Richard will wake him when we get to his stop.
Richard is a good man. Been on this rout almost twelve years now. Lost one child to drugs, got another one headed that way. But he and his wife just took out a second mortgage on their home to send their youngest boy to college. He starts Tennessee State University this fall. Richard says, “That boy’s go’na make his mama and me real proud one day.”
Rev. Hudson says, “The Lord show is good, aint He?”
Richard, Mrs. Lojack, and Ant Emma say, “Amen.”