Our W. Web leaves the compound on his first assignment. His bus ride turns out to be a time for contemplation:

W. Web boarded a bus heading back into the city from the Rails compound. It had been a long orientation week, and he wasn’t sure if he was ready to shave his head like the rest of them, but he liked a lot of what he had heard.

He was on his fist trip for the group – a rally being held down in the Big City. It would be interesting for sure. Web squeezed through the crowd to find a seat near the middle, right next to a tall man with a buzz cut Web thought looked like a “Rick.”

Rick was riding the bus home from work. He had the reverse commute, living in the city but working out in the country. It was an unusually crowded day for a Tuesday – people of all destinations packed together, muffled music seeping from earphones, blank stares emanating from tired faces. Rick inched sideways to create more room as strange man who appeared to be wearing a paper mache globe around his body struggled to fit into one of the center-facing seats next to him.

As the bus pulled away from its next stop on the city’s edge, Rick smelled a strong stench get on. A man, dirty and tattered, pushed his way to the middle of the bus.

“Move it!” he shouted gruffly as he pushed a small boy and his mother out of the way, The smell of liquor oozed out his pores.

Rick, having just received his black-belt in Karate, was not about watch a drunken bum push a small child. And to be honest he was a little excited at the chance to put his hard-earned skills to use. He stood from his seat, chest out like a Marine, and moved swiftly down the bus toward the low-life. His every move signaled confrontation.

“Hey!” the voice shot toward the drunk.

But the voice was not Rick’s, it was that of a frail old man observing the situation from the rear of the bus. The man smiled warmly, leaning at an angle to see through the crowd.

“Young man, I have a seat for you right here!” he shouted up to the front of the bus, patting an empty seat next to him.

The man tromped his way unsteadily past Rick, who had been stopped in stride by the old man’s voice, and to the back of the bus. He sat down next to the old man.

“Aren’t you glad spring is finally here?” the elder asked the drunk with excitement to his voice, “I’m on the way home to garden with my wife. You should see how happy she is when she gardens, and the Hydrangea are just about to bloom!”

The drunk wrinkled his face, blinking, and his lips began to quiver. Within seconds a tear had broken free and began to roll slowly down his cheek.

“I had a wife, and she loved to garden too,” he managed to stammer, “I lost my job last year, and then lost my life to the bottle.”

The old man patted his shoulder, a small gesture to acknowledge his grief. And as the two talked and the story unfolded, Rick watched from the middle of the bus, his face softening in pity.

At the next stop, W. Web watched curiously as Rick stepped off the bus. Five minutes and two miles ago, the man’s hair had been raised and his stance ready for a confrontation. But the man getting off the bus was different, with all the look someone contemplating the hard blows life can deliver.

(Story adapted from Steve Hagen)