When I ask to access my window seat on the bus, the tall, attractive woman in the aisle seat gets up to let me slip by her. I am surprised at how friendly she seems, as she greets me with a smile and questions about where I’m from, etc. I learned many years ago that people universally treat buses and elevators as travel in which one maintains their personal space as if the other were not there. This is why, when I was a Santa Cruz bus driver, my personal campaign to break down this alienation though encouraging singing earned me the moniker of the “Singing Bus Driver¨. (BTW, this became helpful when we organized our bus riders to support our 17 day strike for our first union contract–we all sang union songs together over the connected radio system, driving management nuts.)
I was encouraged that I’d be easily able to practice my Spanish on the long bus ride from Valparaiso. My new friend Maria is heading to my destination, the small mountain town of Pucan in central Chile on Lake Villarica, surrounded by volcanoes, beautiful lakes, streams, hot springs and the incomparable Andes. Maria, a 45-year-old divorcee from north of Valparaiso has had the more serious, early onset lupus since her youth, and was on leave from her medical support job for several months due to a major flare-up. She was heading to recuperate with her good friend, who happened to be the first wife of her ex-husband.
Maria spoke so quickly I really had to concentrate to understand her complex story. She knew by my expression when I got what she was saying, and when she needed to repeat more slowly. Maria leaned close and spoke softly about the trauma of the lupus attack, and the impact on her job and life. Then she began telling of her lover´s betrayal within the last 24 hours.
Her revelations were so personal that she would stop talking and look deeply into me with her big, sad, tear-swollen, green eyes, as if to say “I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you!” The she’d quickly crane her long neck around in all directions, as if a pretty swan sensing danger to her babies. Then she’d sink lower in her seat and softly whisper “My god I wonder if anyone from my little pueblo is near, and heard what I said!” We’d then both laugh like little kids awhile.
Maria had just enjoyed a wonderful two week love affair with a childhood friend, her first in 18 months since breaking up with her (and her best friend´s) former husband, whom she referred to as “El Senor.” The day before our encounter, her lover called his good friend to share all the excitement and pleasure of his new love, reportedly not leaving out a detail of their intimate love-making. The problem for this poor chap is that he made the fatal mistake of conferencing Maria into the call! After listening to the entire conversation silently, she called his friend later to say she was never going to see her lover again, and that if he breathed a word of what he heard to anyone else, they would be his last words.
Despite much begging for forgiveness in repeated messages from the ex-lover, Maria seems totally and sadly through with the relationship for ever. After finishing her story, Maria was totally spent and collapsed to sleep until we arrived in Pucon. She was met by her step-daughter, daughter of her ex-husband and best friend, at the bus stop, and took off into the countryside to recover from both the lupus attack and heartbreak.
I decided that the timing was not right to let Maria know that men sometimes discuss details of love-making in a confidential manner with a close friend. Yes, I did feel sadness also for her lover, and that tech succeeded in sinking an otherwise valued relationship.
PS A few of the details of the story have been changed to protect Maria´s identity.