Water Bird by Maureen O'Leary


We watched through the back window as she ran after our bus in the rain. We: Dry. Confined. Going forward. She: Free. Floundering. All possibilities open. Stop the bus, we called out. Literally nobody cares about getting to wherever at whatever time. What’s the big deal? Stop the bus. But the driver pretended not to hear or maybe he didn’t hear or maybe he couldn’t hear. Or maybe we just scrolled through our phones and never spoke up for the woman running as if the bus was worth risking a twisted ankle for, or a broken shoe, or a burst heart.

Her heart did burst. The news buried the flash deep in the online edition. The evening broadcast discussed a local woman who died trying to get to work when she missed her bus and rather than wait for another she ran down after it. She was a water bird flapping in the puddles amid other people’s umbrellas. She was a single mom, the commentator said, barely earning a living wage. She was a cautionary tale for the plight of the working poor, a tale of generic boxes of macaroni, government cheese, and school lunches that were free and reduced. She had shelter, the commentator said, but she needed wheels. She was left behind, always trying to catch up and never able to catch up. She missed her bus by twenty seconds but she tried, the commentator said. At least the woman tried.

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