Approaching the 28 Road stop on North Avenue, my sixth round of the afternoon, I caught notice in the dusk of two feet silhouetted beneath the shelter. Sensing a potential passenger I pulled in to pickup the person waiting. Slowing as I was approaching the shelter, I caught sight of a young female sitting motionless in the shadows. Sight of the bus did not seem to interest her. Then came a slight wave of her hand motioning me on. I turned back to my route merging carefully with the slow moving traffic.
That was odd, I thought. A young woman alone on North at this hour of the evening. Most young persons travel in pairs or groups of friends when traveling late.” Wonder what’s her story?” I thought as I continued toward the downtown terminal. “Maybe she was waiting for someone to pick her up at that stop,” I thought, as I redirected my attention to the stops ahead.
Leaving downtown, I headed back up seventh street and turned east on North Avenue. Route nine was a bit busier ferrying early evening shift changers home to Clifton, and Palisade. All the shelter folk had been delivered two hours before, dinner served and its doors closed for the night.
The Walmart stop was vacant except for two stragglers just off work. No one at the Work Force Center, its last classes complete and staff parking lot vacant. I continued down North to the I-70 Business Loop. “Route 9 at the Business Loop needing Routes 3, 4, and 10 in Clifton,” I broadcast over the company channel.
“Copy Route 9,” came the expected reply.
Leaving Clifton, returning west to North Avenue, the traffic was beginning to dwindle. The rush (or so we call it) was now over. The street lights were beginning to replace the glow on the horizon and very few stops had anyone waiting. Coming once again to 28 Road, I detected the same two feet beneath the shelter. I pulled in to the stop. This time I pulled slowly in front of the enclosed bench and opened my doors. “Ride Miss?” I said, looking directly into her hollow eyes.
“No,” was the response as she motioned me onward.
Once again, I pulled away and continued on route. “Lost eyes,” I thought continuing more quickly down the avenue. “Maybe the party for whom she was waiting didn’t come.” I wondered. “Maybe she is stranded, or even lost.” There was definitely a vacant expression that caught my eye as I had peered through the open doors. I see so many hopeless faces when I open for passengers along North, so many shuffled from pillar to post by the very systems that were designed to help them. It is, therefore, not unusual to see vacant faces, persons lost to a future they once held bright, struggling from day to day simply to shelter and feed their families. This woman’s face was somehow different.
My last round through Clifton left me with two passengers going all the way to the downtown terminal. I watched for any sign of life at each stop as we passed by: Habitat, Maco, Big O Tires, Texas Road House. It was then I saw her. A quarter of a mile east of 28 Road our first encounter. She was walking toward me as though she had given up waiting and set out on foot. There was no place open along North that she could be staying were she homeless. I feared there would be few shelters for those eyes tonight. Only the open sidewalk and flashing neon signs.
I drove on by to complete my round and head home, her hollow gaze haunting me.