On a recent day just before rush hour, I waited at a bus stop with two large bags of groceries. The wind blustered cold, and the overcast sky threatened to let go of its load of snow on the world around me. A city bus pulled up. Through the windows I could see people standing in the center aisle, all the seats were taken — an unusual occurrence before rush hour. I boarded, hefting my full grocery bags up to the floor near the driver. As I paid, a man in the front stood and offered me his seat. To get the bags out of the way so people wouldn’t trip over them (or destroy the eggs in the carton on top of one), I set them on the seat and stood, holding onto the bar above and bracing my knees against the seat.
Six or seven people crammed in around me. I looked toward the back. Usually, those standing in the aisle will move farther toward the back when people board. No one moved. Blocking them at the very end of their line stood the Redhead.
Her red hair flipped up at her shoulders and a swatch of it fell diagonally across her forehead connecting with one side of her black thick-framed eyeglasses at a 45-degree angle. The lips of her small mouth pursed in determination. She stared straight ahead. She looked like she’d stepped directly out of the 1950’s.
No one said anything. The bus moved forward. I stared at the Redhead, wondering what she was thinking. She looked to be in her late-20’s, not particularly pretty but not homely either. How could she be oblivious to the situation? Open space yawned behind her. Did she think to move back was beneath her? Her expression could also be interpreted as haughty. It definitely said, “don’t bother me.” Angry? Who was this young woman? Where had she boarded the bus?
I began to spin a backstory for her in my mind. I decided that she must be affluent, forced to ride the bus because her car was being repaired. I decided her facial expression meant anger, not determination, and it had erected an invisible wall around her. I toyed with the idea that she had a mental illness and might suddenly begin screaming or something equally dramatic, but suddenly, I was no longer curious about her. Nothing about her appearance or the situation compelled my imagination to play anymore.
This is one way characters can arrive and depart my life and mind. Nothing is ever completely discarded from these little mind games. Details can stick in my mind and pop up months, even years, later to become a part of a character that decided to stay with me for a while and share his or her story….