A wall in the shower is covered in gray tile. One of the little hexagons is cracked in such a way that it looks like the profile of a wolf. You stare at it while soaping your armpits, and think if your life were a Miyazaki movie, the tiny wolf would come to life and follow you around, protecting you from evil spirits. It would say things like, “Let your heart guide you,” and rest on your pillow at night, its green eyes glowing.
You buy a newspaper before waiting for the bus on St. Georges Terrace. You signal the 24 and it comes to a halt. “G’day,” says the driver. “Hello,” you respond, as you fold your newspaper and brush off some crumbs on the front seat. It’s after lunch, and the bus carries just a few other passengers.
A woman with bright pink cheeks gets on at the next stop. She looks out of breath. You notice the woman’s hair, long and white, with pink and purple streaks. The woman holds her SmartRider card up to the scanner, and sighs with relief when it beeps.
You open your newspaper. Something horrible has happened in Paris. A map with tiny stick figures compares the number of attackers to the number of victims. You sigh. What the hell is wrong with people. You get a text from Cassy. It’s a link to a video of cats being startled by cucumbers. “Try this with Finn,” Cassy writes. You chuckle. France has declared war on terrorism.
Someone has pushed the button signaling the driver to pull over at the next stop. The back door opens and a piercing scream breaks the silence like a meteorite crash in the desert. “It’s ripped off! It’s all gone!” You look behind you and realize the scream is coming from the woman with the white hair with the pink and purple streaks. Tonight you will use the words “freak accident” to describe to your children what happened to this woman. The bus door has ripped off the entire nail of her big toe.
A passenger runs over to her. “Come with me,” he says calmly, in thickly accented English, “I’m going to help you.” He holds up the woman as she stumbles over to the bus shelter. Her foot is covered in blood. The woman is sobbing.
Through the window of the bus, you watch the man as he helps the woman onto a bench and props up her bloody foot on his knee. The blood is getting all over his pants. The woman is shaking and howling in pain.
The bus driver joins them outside. He crouches next to the woman and leans in to say something to her. He reaches into his pocket and offers his handkerchief to the man who quickly wraps it around her foot. The driver boards the bus for a moment to call someone. “One of my passengers is hurt. We will be here for a while. Yes. Thank you.”
You remove your wallet and phone from your purse and search the pockets for Band-Aids, coming up with nothing. You leave your purse and the newspaper on your seat and go outside. You ask the man, still holding the woman’s foot, “Can I call someone? Do you need an ambulance?” He says no, the woman just called her husband. He is on his way.
You sit down next to the woman with the white hair with the pink and purple streaks and rest your hand gently on her back. “It will be ok,” is all you think to say. She collapses back into your palm, and starts to cry again. “I can’t believe this happened,” she moans, “I’m supposed to go hiking in January.”
One by one, the remaining passengers disembark. An older lady has tissues and stories of awful toenail injuries from when she was a ballerina. “Toes heal quickly, trust me.” A passenger with a long blond ponytail is on her way from waitressing downtown to coaching gymnastics. “I’ll be late but it doesn’t matter.” A young man dressed in all black comes over to the bench and hands the woman an unopened bottle of water.
You feel bad about not having any Band-Aids, and say to the man with blood on his pants, “You should be a doctor.” He blushes. “I hope to be one soon.” It turns out he’s in medical school up the road. Everyone laughs, including the injured woman who shakes her head in disbelief, “What are the chances?”
The husband arrives. “Oh Junie Bug,” he says sweetly, putting his hand to her cheek. His wife starts crying again. “All these people took such good care of me.” “Of course they did, Junie Bug, of course they did.”
Everyone says goodbye to the woman with the white hair with the pink and purple streaks and gets back on the bus, returning to their original seats. You read the newspaper the rest of the way home. Many of those people in Paris were at a rock show.
Later that night you take a shower. You stare at the wolf and think about scary things. Then you think about all the kindness, all of the people looking out for each other.