You meet the most interesting people at bus stops. On Monday I went to the library by bus. Coming back, the bus was late, and it was raining. I had my backpack (enormous and heavy) and a tote bag (ditto) and a large red umbrella, and wet boots. There were two gentlemen at the bus stop. Both were smoking, one of them inside the semi-enclosed shelter. Cigarette smoke does not do good things to my lungs, so I stood outside with my umbrella.
Smoking gentleman #1 (the inside one) decides to come out and offer me a seat. It was very good of him, I say, but I'm extremely allergic to smoke, so I'll just stand out here.
He retires. A moment later, he's back to offer to stand outside. So good of you, I say, but even the lingering smoke would trouble me.
He turns away. Then back. "You say you're allergic... what does it do to you?"
I try to explain about deep, hacking coughs, and headaches, but I don't think he gets it. He wanders back into the shelter. I shift my umbrella, set the tote bag down on my foot so it doesn't get wet, and look for the bus.
Smoking gentleman #2: "Is your backpack waterproof? It's all hanging out in the back."
I allow that it is not, in fact, waterproof. A certain amount of shifting about to get the largest possible portion of it under the umbrella.
Gentleman #1 emerges again, comes up to me, and asks, "'scuse me, but what is your race?"
I probably gave him a blank stare for a minute. "Um... I'm American?"
Gentleman #1: "Oh. I just wondered... you look like one of them gypsy women, where they from?"
A further blank stare. "Uh... I believe they're from eastern Europe. And I don't think I'm a gypsy..."
He: "I just wondered. You look like one." He turns away, then back. "I mean, you look nice..."
He wanders back into the shelter. I shift all my bags around again, get water down the back of my neck, and wait for the bus.
Gentleman #2 asks if I'm a student. I say yes. He asks what I do, and when I say "music" he promptly starts suggesting that I join a touring group "like those women who play the violin." I have no idea what he is talking about, but I smile and nod and say that opera is more my speed.
Presently a third gentleman, tall and distinguished and silver-haired, comes up, book in hand. He stands near me. We all four scan the road for the errant bus. I start jigging up and down and singing, partly to keep warm and partly because I rarely go more than a few minutes without singing.
Gentleman #3 turns to me and says, "You're singing. Why are you so happy?"
I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that, as my singing had not been prompted by extreme joy... "I like rain?" I venture.
Then he asks me whether I liked to sing (yes) whether I was classically trained (yes) and what I want to do with it (opera.) Then he seems to run out of questions and subsides.
Finally the bus appears (twenty minutes behind schedule) and we all get in out of the wet. Then the bus driver sings snatches of Christmas songs all the way to the transit center.
I still haven't gotten over being asked if I was a gypsy woman...