I was on my way back to California, from Seattle, when the rain turned to snow. The temperature dropped lower, and the snow flakes fatter, when we finally pulled into the next bus station. The driver came on the loud speaker after he parked and said the road going over the pass was closed, and that we would be spending the night in the bus station.
Four other Greyhound Buses were parked already, as we were asked to grab our things and carefully go inside. There were no smiles for any of us passenger's. We had been on the bus a long time, and those not riding far, chatted and laughed loud enough to keep us awake. When I followed the passenger's in front of me inside, I saw almost 200 stranded passenger's, some sitting on benches, or tv chairs, but more, laying on the cold floor trying to sleep.
The bus terminal was chilly, and I felt that they should have turned it up, because the snow storm was only getting worse. I chose a spot to sit down and looked around. I saw people of every race, of every age, couples, seniors, families, and teens, all sharing the same look of concern, uncertainty, and sadness. Many had brought blankets along on their trip, and I saw why now. But all I had was my coat.
I saw one girl from the bus I had been riding didn't have much of a warm coat to wear, so I offered my coat to her. At first she refused, but I insisted, and told her I was originally from Washington State and the cold was no big thing. She accepted it with a smile and a thank you, and she made a little bed on the floor and tried to rest. No more buses pulled in for hours, as the snow turned to mixed snow and rain.
But it didn't matter to me what the weather was like here. It was what the conditions in the mountains were like that would decide when us passenger's would re-board our bus and get home. It was then that I felt a wave of cold air behind me and I turned around to see who had just come through the only unlocked bus station door.
I felt a twinge of sadness in my heart, as I saw a mother in her twenties holding her daughter's hand, standing in the shadows, away from all the other passenger's. She had a red and brown blanket wrapped around them, and as the snow melted, puddles of water formed around them. Her hair was unkept, her face smudged with dirt. The little blonde haired girl was no more the six tears old, wearing white tennis shoes, a pink and a grey jogging suit.
They had no baggage with them, and no buses had arrived, so I assumed they were homeless, living on the street. I felt tears form in my eyes to see such a tragedy for the two of them to endure. It's dangerous enough to be a guy, homeless on the streets. I wondered why she had no friends or relatives to stay with? Why no church offered to take them in from the cold? Why the shelter's had turned them both away? But most of all, how and why they had fallen through the cracks and become homeless in the first place?
The huddled closer together and I wathched the little girl's mother brush tears from her daughter's face. I saw love shining in both their eyes, even as my tears flowed down my cheeks. They were shivering, frightened, with no way to get warm, no way to dry their blanket, and I was sure no money for a meal. Everyone else in the bus station was pre-occupied with listening to their CD player, calling on pay phones, or cel-phones, talking to one another, or curled up, trying to sleep.
No one even noticed the two people, hidden in the shadows of a darkened bus station. The inside lights had been turned down, to allow those who could sleep to do so. What we needed more right now was the thermostat turned up. My neck, chest, and arms had goosebumps from the chilly air, but I could not ask for my goat back. Mr. Spock once said in a movie..."The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one"; and I lived by that ideal.
There was no restaurant at this bus station, only over-priced food machines and video games. I walked over to the coffee machine and bought a cup of coffeefor the young mother, and a cup of hot chocolate for her little girl. I planned on buying them some warm food too, since there was a microwave for passenger's to use. I made my way over to the doorway, and saw the water on the floor all around them as they watched me approach.
When I was close enough to be heard, I stopped, and softly whispered, "I brought some coffee and hot chocolate for both of you"; and I held out both cups for them. The little girl looked into her mother's face as she tugged on her hand, but her mother looked down with sad eyes and shook her head no. At that instant, all three of us felt tears flowing from our eyes. The mother looked into my eyes and I heard her whisper; "thank you for your kindness, but we have to go now"; and I watched them vanish into the darkness.
They were gone! As if I had never seen them. But there were the two sets of foot prints leading inside, one set small, one set big. Where they once had stood was the pool of water, and in the water was one long blonde hair. I could feel my heart being torn out, to realize that they were ghosts. The spirts of two live souls who had lost their lives in the coldness of the winter. It would become a memory for years to come
that would remind me of the harshness and reality of living homeless on the street.
When I turned around and made my way to a place I chose to sit and spend the night,I offered a cup of coffee to a man a few feet away from me. He gladly accepted and asked me why I had been standing by the door way with the two cups; as if I had been talking to someone? I realized then, that he hadn't seen the mother with her daughter. I was sure no one had. I didn't know why spirits allow themselves to let me see them, if only for a brief moment? Perhaps they are just hoping to feel that someone still cares?
© 2004 Raymond Brown