Merrily We Roll Along
We all have our baggage, seen and unseen.
I’m one of those women you see with the little wheeled bag, rolling along to work. I feel silly about it, so I compensate by pretending I’m a glamorous Pam-Am stewardess, circa 1967. But the truth is something more pedestrian—literally. I walk to work, and sans car trunk, I zip down Bishop Street dragging my day’s belongings behind me.
I have the same wheeled backpack, it turns out, as a woman who sells newspapers on the corner of my street. She’s a loopy-haired brunette with the physicality of an old bar of soap—a slouchy, concave woman, her former self worn down to a slippery crescent. She slides between stopped cars at the light, thrusting the paper defiantly overhead like Norma Rae’s famous UNION sign.
As I wheel by her, mornings and evenings, I can see that her wheelie is stuffed full of umbrellas, pajamas, her lunch, her life. Once, she stopped me to ask me where I got my bag.
Yup. $14.95. And I felt guilty, not knowing if $14.95 was a deal or an impossible dream for her. As soon as the light changed, I quickly walked away.
But she and I share a weird intimacy, one to which she is completely oblivious.
Several years ago, I was in a bus coming up Alakea Street. She was walking across Alakea Street. She suddenly drew up, and her limbs jerked back like they’d been yanked by a monofilament. She toppled over, a stiff slab. Her head bounced off the edge of the curb, and she began bleeding. A scruffy guy—who to this day sells papers alongside her—tried to hold her out of the gutter.
illustration by Jing Tsong
A seizure, by the way, looks like the body’s become electric. It looks like something Tesla would have wrought.
Was it epilepsy? A drug overdose? An overdose of epilepsy drugs? The passengers on the bus sat silent. The driver, though, yanked the steering wheel to the same curb the woman was seizing upon, and radioed for assistance. He gave the wrong address entirely, but an ambulance came in what felt like 120 seconds. We watched dumbfounded as the stranger was resurrected, popped up onto a stretcher and bustled behind white steel doors.
The next day I saw her on my way to work, on the same corner where I always see her. She had a butterfly bandage on her brow, a black eye, a bruised jaw. Good, I thought. You’re alive.
I still think of the bus incident every time I pass her, and wonder what secrets she might know about me. In life, you roll by people all the time. Sometimes you see their pajamas. Sometimes worse.