Hills Like White Elephants, the Sequel

by f

I met my sorority sister for lunch at the old alma mater. I had a great time. If you’re reading this, T — thank you!

Since I overspent on food, I wanted to get home cheaply. (Damn you, delicious ABP black bean sandwich!) Actually I had no choice  — I couldn’t afford a train ticket. Those were $5.25, up 35% from just a few months ago. Instead, I tried the coach bus that runs between the college and the P library, where I do my work.

(When I graduated from college in ’08, I thought I tried every mode of transportation the city of NB had to offer. Clearly not. A few days ago, W told me about the suburban NB-PSquare coach. PSquare is much closer to the library than the Transit’s dinky station.  Total win-win. I saved $3 — and I didn’t have to transfer two trains and then walk a half-mile up steep sidewalk.)

Today, I learned two things.

First, I realized that the coach bus attracts a different crowd.

That’s not hard to imagine. The Transit’s expensive. Though it’s a thousand years old, it’s still the most efficient thing we’ve got. No matter how high the ticket prices get, people will use the train.

There is a significant group of people who can’t afford the Transit. They take the bus. Buses tend to be cheaper, but they’re more problematic: e.g., traffic, people pissing in the back, incredible exhaust fumes, etc.

(Also, because buses traverse shorter distances between stops, many people use it to run errands. of mothers. And because NB has exploding populations of Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan immigrants, the buses always carry at least one or two whole families. I love the kids’ chatter — it goes a long way toward disrupting the creepy echoes of old-person sleep apnea.)

The second thing I’ve learned? Not much has changed since Hills Like White Elephants.

I noticed the two girls next to me as soon as they got on at the bus depot, two stops away from mine. Late teens, I’d say, or maybe younger. One was a black girl in a startling dress of bright blue. The other, a white girl — she wore a thin ponytail, white shirt and scant shorts.

“Was this yesterday?”

Short-Shorts pinched her wrists. “Yeah.”

“So what?”

Short-Shorts shrugged. “Went home.”

After a while, Blue Dress told Short Shorts to stop wringing her hands. Short-Shorts bordered on self-injurious; I was afraid she’d take her hands clean off her wrists. After a moment she stopped, letting her arms fall into her lap. They stayed silent for a while as Blue Dress popped epic Bubbalicious bubbles.

Short-Shorts broke the silence first. “Do you think that kids get the same hands from their parents?” she asked.

“Maybe.” Blue Dress traced her lifeline. “but my hands are already bigger than everybody else’s.”

Mine are small.”

“Like baby hands?” Blue Dress asked, holding her friend’s (tiny) hands in hers. And then a moment of shock, an intake of breath. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Short-Shorts took her hand away from her friend’s grasp and imitated the swoosh of a vacuum. Blue Dress shook her head. She hid her face behind her (big) hands, and the two didn’t speak until they left a few stops later.

*

If you’re not familiar with the iconic Hemingway short story, it goes like this: man tries to persuade woman to get abortion, man never mentions the word ‘abortion’; neither does his girlfriend. Their discussion is between the lines. As in a 3d-Escher image, it’s only after you look very, very hard that the true image comes to light.

As bus went further down the slow local road, I couldn’t think of anything else. I don’t care what side of the debate you’re on; if this doesn’t make you sad, you’re not a human being.

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