The bus was crowded, but I’m not sure why. It was early Saturday afternoon, which is not normally busy, and the weather was fine. My son and I had waited a while for a bus and agreed that we had not seen the bus that our phone apps were telling us had just passed. Maybe we had been distracted and failed to notice it. Perhaps it was a very quiet and unobtrusive bus. Possibly it was The Invisible Bus. In any case, we hadn’t seen it.
The bus we did catch was very, very full, probably because the previous phantom bus had not actually existed. Ours was full of strollers with babies, walkers with seniors, walking canes with infirm people, shopping, luggage, and people, people, people. So many people, in fact, that the driver had to turn some of them away. I have never seen that happen before on an Edmonton Transit bus.
After my son got off at his stop and we had said our goodbyes from two seats apart, a local street performer got on the bus. I have seen her before both on my bus and at the farmers’ market. She is a statue known as Sunny Girl. Painted silver, she stands unmoving in all weathers until someone puts money in her watering can. I have always been impressed by her and her remarkable ability to be still. On the bus, she put her box of accessories and personal possessions on the platform for luggage, and she took her silver-coloured dolly cart to a seat by the area for people with wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, and infirmities.
Soon after the living statue got on the bus, a woman boarded the bus with five young children. The children were immediately drawn toward the statue woman and began to ask questions. “We want to see the gray lady,” one of them said. Then, one of the children touched her silver-painted face. I was sitting two rows behind them and clearly heard Sunny Girl say “I’m a stranger. You don’t touch a stranger.” I thought that was a very clever response. Unfortunately, it did nothing to inhibit the children’s questions.
What are you supposed to be? Do you paint yourself? Do you just stand without moving? For how long? Why? Do you make a lot of money? Who makes you do that? And on and on. The statue was remarkably patient and answered most of the questions while the children drew ever closer and all of them found ways to touch her, her clothes, her dolly, and her hands. One of the kids asked me how much money I thought would be in a half-filled bucket. I said that, if the money was toonies (Canadian $2 coins), it would probably be a lot of money, and she agreed.
All this time the adult who was with them was sitting beside me. I assumed she was their mother and/or aunt, but she didn’t do or say anything to intervene in the conversations with the Sunny Girl statue. At one point, I said to her “They have so many questions!” and she just nodded. Then, I said “She is so patient with them,” and again the woman did not reply but just grunted in agreement. So, while the responsible adult said and did nothing, the invasion of The Statue’s personal space continued uninterrupted and my discomfort increased.
After what seemed like an eternity but was actually only about fifteen minutes, Sunny Girl got off the bus with her dolly and box of bits and pieces. Shortly after that, the children’s adult supervisor asked one of the children to ask the driver to tell them when they should get off to go to the hospital. I was alarmed because I knew the bus did not go there, and the driver confirmed this.
After a little while, after three of the children had spent a long time up at the front chatting with the driver and getting in the way of new passengers, it became clear where they should all transfer to a different bus. At the appropriate time and place, the woman and three of the children got off the bus, but two of the youngsters lingered. I was very afraid that they would be left unattended, so I said to the girl in front of me, “It’s time to go, honey” and she slowly picked up her possessions to get off the bus with the other child who was also in danger of being left behind.
In order to make this possible another passenger had to get out of their way and afterward, he sat beside me. He said, simply, “Too many,” and I knew what he meant. Five small children are too much for anyone.
The only question I am left with is why anyone would take five children to the hospital. Or, why would five children take their adult guardian to the hospital? But, to tell the truth, I don’t think I really want to know the answer. I just want to give my condolences to the hospital staff…and Sunny Girl. You have the patience of a statue.
Thanks for your well-told experience. I’ve found myself in similar awkwardness and discovered many times that feeling arose from my own habit of story-telling. Seeing others, I make up stories in my head about them, admittedly assumptions and judgements based on their appearance and my opinion and judgement. Only 2 weeks ago, I came across a man laying on a city street. He was at a corner where I’ve seen many homeless people in the past, and although he seemed a little well-dressed his homelessness still seemed plausible. As he addressed me, I expected him to ask me for a little money. Instead, he shared how he felt unwell and would I call him an ambulance. I hesitated a moment, having heard recently how local emergency rooms are overfilled with those who’ve brought on their own medical misfortune through drugs or alcohol. Looking into his eyes and speaking with him, though, I started to see him more clearly, getting past my quick judgement, and called 911. As I spoke with the dispatcher, I also spoke with him, passing along his symptoms and history. Although I’m no medical pro, it’s likely he’d eaten something that caused an allergic reaction and was going into anaphylactic shock. As I could hear sirens approaching, his breathing was labored, his body shook, yet he remained clear headed. This “homeless person” transformed in front of me into another human, and one who’d made a bad restaurant choice. I’m glad I didn’t simply pass him by as many people seem to do when they see those who appear homeless. Yes, it felt awkward to be holding and comforting a stranger on a street corner. Yes, it felt good to bring this invisible person into sight, and into care.
It makes me wonder how many others pass us by that could benefit from our attention that are instead invisible to us because of our preset stories.
I hope the woman with five children made it okay to the hospital.
Wow. That is a wonderful story, Vincent. I am so glad you were wise enough and caring enough to help that man. And, yes, I hope the woman with five children made it to the hospital OK, too. I will always wonder what happened to them.
Your “Sunny Girl” seems to have the patience of Job! It no doubt helps in her chosen line of work! I love the looks of her!
I think I would like to visit Edmonton. You have some fascinating sights and folks there!
Yes, Sunny Girl was remarkably patient. I would have expected she might be too tired to interact with the children after a hard day’s standing still, but she put up with a lot of in-your-face questioning.
Yes, you would probably enjoy Edmonton. There is always something interesting going on.
Anna, thanks for posting this blog! Although, it wasn’t what I expected, I enjoyed reading it. I remember that day quite well, but before you paint me as a saint, I actually remember thinking it was a good thing I was well rested that particular day and in a good mood, or my reaction to those little ones could have been very different! I don’t have children myself, so I have to try to enjoy those rare interactions with children. I’ve actually had a sister-in-law also comment on my patience when interacting with my then 8 year old very inquisitive nephew, so this wasn’t the first time I’ve received such praise. These said reactions as well and the statueing performance may all have a good deal to do with being a preachers daughter and having to behave and sit quietly through out those sometimes lengthy church services!
Yes, I too was struck by the number of children that day and wondered where the quardian(s) was as I didn’t see her when she first stepped on the bus. I heard one of the children ask about the hospital as I was getting off and remember being a little concerned. It was interesting to hear your viewpoint of all you witnessed on that bus ride that Saturday afternoon. You made what was a relatively mundane occurrence if my life the subject of an interesting story!
AKA Edmonton’s Original Tin Girl
Thank you for this response, Laura. It’s interesting how we were only two seats apart but had such different experiences of the same event.
I have heard of some preachers’ children who have gone off the rails, so it’s good to hear that you developed a longsuffering approach to life from your childhood! 🙂
I hope those children and their guardian made it to the hospital. We will never know.
I hope to see you again when you are performing at the farmers market. Thanks again for getting in touch.
Yes, two very different perspectives!
Please say hello next time you see me at the market. I’d like to meet you.