It's 37 degrees this morning. It's the kind of morning that foreshadows a sweltering afternoon. The air has a hint of post-rain coolness to it, but you know that by midday it will feel like lukewarm soup. Doesn't matter. I'm sweating and I've been outside for 3 minutes.
The bus that I take to work isn't air-conditioned, but it is still a tiny refuge from the heat because it has windows. And now and then, when the bus is in motion I feel a breeze.
Today the bus pulls into a regular stop. Every time we stop for new passengers, the hot air settles around me like a wool sweater. There is one person waiting to board. He is a man in a wheelchair. Following procedure, the driver lowers the bus to one side and activates the access ramp. I am suddenly aware of the fact that my seat is in direct sunlight. The man beside me fluffs his shirt for a breeze. It makes me feel hotter.
There is a problem. The ramp won't work. I feel the mechanics struggling and whirring in the bus' underbelly. I envision the straining gears below, hot-baked with rust. The man beside me peers out the window and says, "It won't come out." I am a little surprised to hear him speak because it's almost too hot for words. We've been stopped for longer than normal, so now everyone on the bus knows what's going on. We all watch as the driver fights with the controls, fruitless. Then he steps outside.
He approaches the man. I assume he is apologizing and probably suggesting alternate arrangements. After all, it's not his fault and I'm sure he feels bad. A drip of sweat trickles down my back. The man in the wheelchair is wearing long, black pants on a day like today. He is shaking his head. The kind of shake you make when you're mad, but too nice to punch someone in the throat.
The driver steps onto the bus again. I half-believe he will ask if any of us will help lift the man onboard. But he doesn't. And we don't offer.
And the bus pulls away. And the breeze blows in again.
But I am shifting uncomfortably.
And it's not because of the heat.