FRANKLYN is my bus driver. I think everyone who rides his bus regularly probably feels the same. He has a way of making us forget that we’re paying for public transportation, rather than just catching a ride with a good friend.
If you go to Kingston and you get to ride his bus, you must watch. As you do, you will notice many small and large considerations for yourself and others.
giving you his phone number so you can call him — anytime — to find out if the bus will “soon come.”
honking every evening so that one guy can come running out of his workplace at the last possible minute to board the bus.
calling to check on you when he hears that you are sick.
waiting until the elderly gentleman is seated before accelerating.
circling the square a second time to pick you up when you miss boarding the bus with the other passengers.
dropping someone off a block before the official bus stop, so they don’t have to walk quite as far.
asking a middle-aged street vendor where she was after she missed a day.
I saw all these things and started to think…maybe, just maybe, this was a good man. The kind who treated everyone with respect and did favors without expecting anything in return.
And yet…I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When he said we would exchange numbers I fully expected to be bombarded with calls and texts (either of a savory or unsavory nature). It never happened.
When I told him I’d soon be leaving Jamaica, I half expected to get some kind of story about wanting to go abroad and needing a sponsor. I never heard it.
When my final week came, I almost expected a request for money. It never came.
I expected all these things because, as I travel, I meet many people who see me as a solution to a problem. I distrust kindness. I will try to figure out “why” so I can be prepared with a plausible reason for saying “no.”
It’s just the way it is.
Even after months go by without a request for a romantic liaison, an “in” with Immigration, or financial assistance; I will still have the niggling thought that there is something behind it all.
But sometimes I get lucky.
I did the first time I boarded the 3 Mile bus with him as my driver. I didn’t know it then, but Franklyn, who I didn’t even glance at, was going to become my friend.
He has a voice that sounds like it was mined from a quarry, each word an enormous boulder crashing down on granite.
At first listen, you wouldn’t think that voice could carry sympathy or humor, but it does. I hear it each time he asks an elderly lady how she’s been or starts talking Jamaican politics with one of the guys who ride the bus to work every day.
He has big hands that easily steer an articulated JUTC bus through the insane rush hour traffic of Kingston, Jamaica.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think those hands could be gentle, but they are. I feel it every time I enter or exit the bus. It’s out tradition. He stretches out his left arm, I grasp his hand, and we shake-squeeze our hello or goodbye.
He has pale eyes that are constantly on the lookout for a potential passenger or a heedless driver or a jagged pothole.
At first glance, you wouldn’t think those eyes could hold warmth, but they do. I saw it when I glanced up at the rear view mirror following an animated conversation with Sachana. He was shaking his head at us indulgently, grinning in spite of himself.
The days and weeks and months added up. I left Jamaica.
The shoe didn’t drop.
I can hardly believe it.
Sometimes, good men are hard to find. Not because they are so very rare, I think.
But because they go about in disguise.
a pastor who sleeps on the couch so he can take midnight calls from the Oncology ward without waking up his wife
a utility worker who gives a teenage girl suddenly on her own a car he spent months working on
a Jesuit brother who cradles an autistic child in his distress
a inner city teacher who reminds his students that they are still little girls when they try to make themselves available to him
a security guard who kneels to tie a small boy’s shoes
a banker who quits his job to dedicate his life to rescuing children from slavery
Or a bus driver.