I boarded the bus during rush hour, cramming myself into a sea of people. I squeezed my way to the back and grasped a metal pole, wincing at the sharp pain shooting through my fingers. The old lady had swept in with the rain and squeezed her bitter hands over my joints. I held my ground on rickety knees, hovering over an elderly gentleman while the bus rocked its way down the street. After a few minutes, the gentleman stood and offered me his seat. I politely declined, thanking him, but I didn’t want to take his seat from him; he insisted, assuring me he would be getting off soon. I accepted, and lowered my aching bones into the dark blue seat, trying not to flinch as I chatted amiably with my benefactor. His stop did not arrive for seven blocks.
He waved good-bye as he disembarked, leaving me to speculate on why he offered me his seat; next to his white hair, wrinkled skin and crooked body, I was almost a teenager. Was it simply an act of chivalry or could he see the old lady hovering over me? Did he see the stiff way I wobbled down the aisle? Did he know I was harbouring an invisible disease?
I watched people come aboard. They piled into the aisle with shopping bags and umbrellas, clinging to the poles; they shuffled past me, petulantly muttering, casting me critical expressions that seemed to say, “Why does that woman have a seat when we deserve it for ourselves.” I deflated under each probing gaze, with a vague awareness of why they looked at me that way. I didn’t appear sick, I wasn’t aged, and I didn’t have a palpable physical ailment; there was no cane, crutches or walker littering the aisle around me.
I scrutinized each person, wondering how many were concealing some infirmity; who else was masking an old lady behind a youthful shell?