Of mental illness and bus rides

people on a bus

I hear him before I see him, with the louder, faster than usual talking. I am sitting in the window seat, knitting a hat, when he sits down next to me.

“I couldn’t protect you. I couldn’t protect you.” fades back into unintelligibility.

I am thinking about my mother now, how much this is like my mother when she is in high mania. I run through the complex of feelings about her: sadness, anger, resentment.

“But I don’t want to wear a jacket,” he says, in a child’s voice.

I consider how to deal with this situation. Should I address him directly? Should I move from this seat? I feel guilty even considering, when I know how my mother must get treated in the streets.

I can’t decide how to address him and the bus is packed. So I work harder to ignore him and focus on my knitting. Then I accidentally slip stitches off the needles. The bus is bumpy and pretty soon those stitches have opened up the rows below.

He continues, leaning in, talking towards the window, with me in between. I put down my knitting in my lap and take a deep breath to calm myself. Before I know it I’ve said, “Stop,” in a firm voice. He stops and looks at me. Unsure what to do, I stay as I was. To my great, surprise he stops. I didn’t know whether to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you.” He stops until he gets off the bus and it is done.