Commuting by public transportation offers several opportunities. You can read the newspaper, or a book. You can start the workday by doing paperwork. You can get a little extra sleep. I used to take the bus to work, and I did all of these. I also met some interesting people.
One was a young woman who worked for a financial institution. We sat together from time to time, and she was good company. She made me laugh.
One winter Saturday back in the 1970’s, at about 6 in the morning, I was awakened by the persistent ring of the doorbell. I looked outside, saw it was snowing heavily, walked down the stairs and opened the front door. Standing there was my friend from the bus, covered with snow and visibly frightened.
She came in, I took her coat, and she sat down at the dining room table. “My husband is trying to kill me,” she said. “What would you like me to do?” I asked. She was ready for that question: “I want to live here with you and your family, where I will be safe.”
At this point we offered her tea. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but you can’t live here. We don’t have a spare room.” She rejected my suggestion that we go to the local hospital. “If I can’t live here, then I’ll go to the FBI, and they will help me get a new identity.” “That isn’t going to work either,” I told her, “and the FBI isn’t open on Saturday.” She hesitated for just a moment and came up with another idea. “I’m Jewish,” she said. “I’ll go to Israel, where I will be safe.” I pointed out the difficult logistics of such a move and asked, “What about the Beth Israel? You’ll be safe there.” She knew I was referring to a Boston hospital, but the fact that it had “Israel” in the name seemed sufficient.
And that is how we ended up in my car, heading into Boston on unplowed streets. She ducked down so that no one, especially her husband, would see her. “Are you scared?” she asked. I admitted that I was, what with the driving snow and an unpredictable passenger who might bolt at any minute. What would I do then? “I’m scared too,” she admitted.
We got to the hospital, and a young woman psychiatrist took the matter in hand. I was asked to wait outside the room, but the doctor soon came out and told me I had done the right thing. She invited me to come in; my friend wanted me there.
The doctor stepped out briefly, and the young woman asked if she could write me a note. I nodded yes. She took a pen from her purse and wrote, “Will you save my husband?” I told her I didn’t know how to save anybody but that she was safe and should let the doctor help her. The hospital admitted her that day.
Soon she was transferred to a longer term facility, and over the following weeks she called me several times. She seemed more composed, and I hoped she was getting better. I wished her well, and finally the calls stopped.
Time passed, and I did not see her on the bus. Then, on another Saturday morning a year or so later the doorbell rang once again. There she was, my friend from the bus. “How nice to see you,” I said. “You look wonderful.” “I have a surprise for you in the car,” she replied. She returned a minute later, carrying her new baby boy.