Often on my rides to work, because I go so early in the mornings, I end up at a hospital or two along the way. People going to early appointments, people being picked up from over night treatments, the bus fills and empties as it makes the long journey to my workplace, up on the edge of the city. Most people, at that time in the morning, don't chat. Virtually all give warm greetings and warm wishes of 'good day' or 'good health'. The bus is a quiet communal place, silence, I have learned can be warm.
At one of the hospital stops, it is possible to look out the windows of the bus and through the windows of the hospital. There is a seating area right inside and, trip after trip, I see people gathered there. Most of them are older. Most of them are with friends or family. It looks like a coffee shop, without coffee where most are wearing robes and gowns. It's easy to tell who the visitors are!
Over the past few weeks I've noticed a couple. They both look old, and given that I'm over sixty, when I say old I mean old. They sit together, in a hospital, talking and laughing. They are always touching, his hand over hers, her hand on his shoulder. It is like while they are laughing, they are holding on for dear life. She is wearing street clothing, he is in robe and gown. It is very early when we get there, she is always there. It gives me comfort to think that he has such warmth, love and companionship while he is there in the hospital. It gives me comfort to know that she has such warmth, love and companionship while he is away from home. Few notice that it works both ways. I do.
I had noticed two older men, maybe seventies, maybe older, who are always there as well. I hadn't noticed them on my first couple of rides because one of the two is a smoker and was often out front sneaking a cigarette. They must have caught him, or maybe he's quit, because now I see him sitting with the other man, who I had noticed before sitting alone in his wheelchair, in the mornings. They talk and laugh too but they never, ever, touch.
I was waiting as the driver assisted someone who is a very, very, slow walker, into the building. I glanced through to see who all was there. I saw the man and the woman, chatting, touching. I then noticed the two men. They both sat quietly. They both looked drawn and scared. Then someone came wearing hospital greens, he chatted with both me, then began to pull the fellow in the wheelchair away. I saw, but did not hear, a protest from the man left sitting at the table. The wheelchair stopped moving away. He lumbered up and came over. He leaned down and kissed the other man, who reached up and held on. They stayed like that for a long moment.
The driver was back, the ramp was folded. I was told I was the next drop off. I rode in silence. Thinking about those two men. I knew why the didn't touch, they came from an era where they learned that touch was dangerous, that touch could kill. I knew why they kissed. They no longer cared. One wouldn't leave the other without a kiss on the lips.
I could think of nothing to do but pray. They will never know that a gay man, sitting in a wheelchair, on a bus, bowed his head and prayed that they'd have more days. Many more days.
Or even one more day.