As I wend my way to work it is obvious that the unseasonably warm weather is not bringing the good people of the city out. No one is visible on foot except for one giddy bus patron, a conservatively dressed black woman, who hides under a tree and then behind the shelter where I catch the first bus.
The hoodrats have been rising from the ghetto in chattering swarms, making like unruly primates as they attack every one in sight. As I nod in and out of sleep as the nearly empty bus rocks over into Middle River, I wonder if Eunice will be there. Eunice is an African lady who works at the Hospital, a lady whom I callously disregarded and left standing at the transfer point for the dying months of 2016. Since my hip injury I have been confined to this stop and no longer stride arrogantly by. Despite my sins, she seems to have forgiven me, has told me her name and sings church hymns to me in her milky voice in the murky dark of the weed-ridden river wash where we catch the #4.
I arrive early.
Eunice is not there under the star-stricken, navy blue sky.
A cop car roars by at high speed.
An ambulance blares its horn and thunders by.
Two women gather across the street to smoke and chat and wait for their heroin, coming out of the city on the #40 Quick Bus.
The #4 arrives, late and nearly empty, the new driver falling asleep at the wheel. The patrons aren’t ambulance chasers, for they take turns shouting to wake him up.
I could have walked.
I complete 8-hours work in five, when it took me 10 hours two months ago.
I walked down to the bus stop between 4:12 and 4: 34 a.m., the sky cast in the darker cobalt blue of predawn. As I arrive clouds begin scudding into east and south, the moon long gone in the western sky.
The hickory T-cane is now unnecessary for stepping, but I have grown accustomed to a full left hand as I amble in the dark.
I stretch, energized by the work, the warmth.
A young, thin man approaches from the west.
I look up from my stretch and regard him.
He crosses to the other side of the street, coughing in a wheezing way.
The #55 arrives, driven by a new driver, a driver who refuses to pull over to the curb or kneel the bus. The bus is more lightly occupied than usual, when in the days before April 2015 the good weather would have brought out more passengers.
As the bus progresses the driver demonstrates a pattern, of pulling over to the curb and kneeling the bus for his brothers and sisters and of simply stopping in the street and making the palefaces climb in.
Overlea Station is deserted, minus the five folks who usually gather there.
Northern Parkway is still detoured due to a water main break that has persisted for three weeks!
The man misses his detour and is unwilling to listen to instructions as he circles wide near my home and refuses to let me off. Is he as witless as so many Baltimore bus drivers, who never drove until they began training for transit work and only know the city by certain bus routes, having no mental map of their home town, even in their late 30s?
Or, might he have been avoiding picking up the four white ladies that board at the top of the hill, now a mile in our rear as he stops at Northern and Harford, as if he is driving the #19 to Taylor and Loch Raven.
My hip has grown stiff, so I use the T-cane to step down and assist me across the median until the joint unhitches.
The area is suddenly deserted of the patrons that awaited the bus and those who boarded the #19 as it pulled in behind. I am alone, walking across the narrow neck of Northern Parkway across from Valentinos.
I hear a scrape to my right.
A large, woolly-headed man, coal black and dirty, wearing greasy gray jeans and jacket, slouches along on a path to intercept me. Something is the matter with his left knee, dropping his stature low enough that he stands a mere six feet with a 45-degree bend in that knee. His hands are apishly back-facing as he narrows his gaze and limp-slouches faster than I am walking, bent, it seems on intercepting me.
Knowing that a crew of criminals occupy the corner of the building by which I must walk, with that apish goon on my tail, I stop, and look over my right shoulder.
He slows and advances on me obliquely to cut me off from passing the corner—which tells me he has no accomplice in the doorway.
The headlights beam eerily past.
He looks straight at me, measuring me with dull, glassy eyes and comes straight on, four steps from contact.
My left hand rests on the crosspiece of the T-cane.
I heft it to a relaxed carry at the mid-point, the slight curve causing the 1.5 inch thick cane to fall into the crease of my curving hand.
Breaking eye contact and looking at what rides in my left hand, the humanoid stops his collision course and looks up into my face and then down into my eyes, as if dimly asking a question.
I maintain eye contact as I swing the T of the cane into my right hand, grasping it like a spatha [a Celtic slashing sword.]
He breaks eye contact again, looks at the length of glazed hickory, the belly riding loosely in my left, the hilt gripped firmly in my right, and he looks back up into my eyes.
He does not swallow, flinch or recoil in fear.
He beams his glassy stare into my cooling eyes and clenches his jaw in anger.
I then step off, turning my back, stop and turn, and see that he had begun lurching toward me again.
I rate him 35, six feet six, 230 pounds, injured and tenacious.
He stops, one foot left behind like a drag anchor.
I then turn my back again and walk up the sidewalk on the outside.
He lurches after me.
I turn, returning my cane from carry to ready again and he stops angrily as we lock eyes.
I then narrow my stare, shoulder load the cane, turn and step off into Harford Road, glancing over my shoulder with every second step as he drags foot to the curb and stands there snarling like some great ape atop his primordial cliff.
I walk on, pumped up, ready, swiveling head with every step and he shuffles back behind the corner of the building, looking sourly over his shoulder.
My hip now feels fine as I march along the desolated stretch of road, marked with more broken windows, two more vacancies and municipal, green-painted, steel trash can frames ripped out of the concrete, the baskets and cans thrown about from the parking lane to the buildings.
In my keyed mind each doorway, each alley, each side street holds an enemy as I break into a strident march, the hip feeling good. I’m stoked and the two poor folks waiting for the Carney #19 in front of the hair salon scamper out of my way as if I am the predatory ape that stalks this soot-burnished ghetto.
I’m alive again and if I didn’t have a couple of hernias, I would have been tempted to yodel like Tarzan.