It's snowing. A lot. Today, I toyed with the idea of taking a cab home to avoid waiting for the bus and getting wet-dogged in the process. I had to see my accountant and remembered there was a sheltered bus stop right outside his office. I could wait there afterwards, and not get wet. So, that's what I did.
There was an old man waiting in the bus shelter too. I walked in, brushing the snow off my sleeves and said, "This is nice eh?". He removed his styrofoam cup from the seat beside him and I sat down.
His clothes were old and dirty. It crossed my mind he might be homeless. I wondered when he'd ask me for change. Or when he'd start to get annoying. Or when I'd notice the alcohol breath. But none of those things happened.
We started small talking. Mostly about the weather. He was a nice man. Not frail - but little under his old blue tuque.
He told me he'd seen it snow in June before. That he wished he was sitting beside the fire looking at the snow from a window, That "April Showers Bring May Flowers", that 'that man should be wearing a hat'.
We paused here and there. Me, leaning to look for the bus. Him, sitting, watching the wind whip up the falling snow. I was enjoying our conversation. The man had an accent, so I asked what it was.
"Hungarian. I am a refugee."
And he started telling me his story. About how he escaped Communism in Hungary during the revolution in 1956. I could tell he'd told the story many, many times. It was well-versed, memorized, but I could see the re-telling never lost it's magic on him. With an obvious pride, he remembered dates, times and the pier number, that his ship docked at when he finally crossed the Atlantic to Halifax.
He married a W.A.S.P (and did I know what that was?). And in the 60's he taught at a theatre school. When he eventually retired, he got bored. So, he started to volunteer. Monday to Thursday, he makes an hour-long bus commute to the Black Community Center and tutors Grade 7 kids in Math. Which he has been doing for 13 years.
I was impressed. And I told him so. Because I've been feeling a pull to volunteer somewhere, but I can't quite figure out what I should do, what I'm built for. I told him, it must be very rewarding if he's been doing it for so long.
He reached into his fanny pack for his wallet and pulled out a folded piece of paper. It was a faded photostat made to look like a certificate. It said, Honourary Lifetime Dedication Award. and was from the Black Community Center.
"See? They made me a certificate and made me an Honourary Lifetime Member." The date at the bottom was June 2004. He'd been carrying it with him already almost 3 years. His name was on it too: John G. Barta. So, I finally introduced myself.
He folded it gingerly, "I'm proud as a peacock", he grinned.
And you know what? I LOVED that he treasured this crumpled old photocopy. You could see it meant more to him than anything.
A student driver car passed. John told me he'd never learned to drive, that he's always taken the bus. I told him, when you take the bus you get to see more things and meet more people. He supposed I was right.
And then my bus pulled up. I got up and he said, "God bless you", and handed me my umbrella which had clattered off my lap when I stood.
And on the bus ride home, I glanced at all the tired, sullen faces around me. And I thought - you've got a story too. I hope someday you get to tell it. Even if it's just to a stranger at a bus stop.