Saturday, March 8, 2008

Taking a Load Off

The air was cool as I waited for the bus on Michigan Ave. It was me and a medium-sized box I had shipped to myself while vacationing in China, so as to lighten my load. You can only procrastinate for so long taking a box home from the office.

The bus arrived, and I joined the line of people to board. Inside, it didn’t look good. Standing room only.

With my backpack slung over my left shoulder, I gripped a metal pole with one arm and held the box with the other. Didn’t know how long this would last.

Soon after the bus started rolling along Michigan Ave., a small, steady voice took my by surprise: “If you want, I’ll hold your box for you.”

I looked down and to my left. There, a middle-aged woman with a round face and sparkling blue eyes looked up at me from her seat.

I felt a sheepishness.

“If you want to, I’d really appreciate that,” I said, a grin forming across my face.

I handed her the box, and she rested it on her lap.

“If there’s a bunch of money inside, I might want to keep it,” said the woman to her right. And they both laughed.

Continuing to stand, I nestled my backpack between my legs on the floor and held onto the pole as the bus navigated the afternoon traffic.

Soon, the woman who made the joke about the money stood up and offered me her seat.

I refused. But she insisted; she was getting off the bus, anyway, she said.

I thanked her and took the seat. The woman to my left, with the blue eyes, was still holding my box. She made no indication that she wanted me to take it back. So, I offered to reclaim it.

“I shipped it to myself from China,” I told her.

She said the son of a friend of hers had spent time in China and had learned Mandarin Chinese.

Inside the box was a light jacket that I didn’t need in the cold weather of western and northern China; a bicycle light I got for cheap from a night market in Hong Kong; and three stuffed-animal pandas from a panda reserve outside of Chengdu. One or two of the pandas I knew I wanted to keep, but I had wondered what I’d do with the third.

“Here,” I said to the woman, as I took the largest panda out of the box. “Why don’t you take this?”

A look of surprise swept across her face.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling.

When we reached Delaware Pl., she thanked me again. I thanked her for offering to take the box.

And she got off the bus.

With joy welling up within me, I felt sure I got more out of the exchange than she. Or, well… maybe it was even.

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