There’s this certain way big, diesel exhaust smells when it rains. Almost a musty, dusty smell but kind of pleasant. I mean, no one likes the smell of the carbon monoxide crap that cars choke up, but everybody likes the smell of rain, so it’s really confusing. It’s like the first time you kiss someone. You’re kind of disgusted that you just touched mouths, I mean, you don’t know where the other person’s mouth has been, you know? But you’re still glad anyway. And you want to brush your teeth. Anyway, that’s what I remember when I think of that day. The smell, of all things. That confusing smell.
I was sitting on the bench at the bus stop, looking at the same storefront I had sat and stared at for eight years. It used to be a nail salon, when I first sat on the bus bench, then the lady that owned it moved back to Korea, so it closed down. It has smelled like ammonia ever since. It was an empty building for a while, and then we think it was a Mexican restaurant of some sort. At least, there were a lot of Mexicans that went in and out all the time. Now it’s a pawn shop or something. Old t.v.’s were stacked in the front left window, usually playing some Spanish soap opera or infomercial for blenders. I could see guitars lining the crevice where the ceiling and the wall met, and the fat man and fatter woman who owned the shop were always having pizza delivered, even at 8:30 in the morning when I catch the red-32 bus to go to the east side.
Anyway, I was looking at that shop and smelling the gas-rain smell on Thursday, February 25, waiting for the 8:30 bus to go to my paper-pushing job and thinking about dying and never being found in my cubicle when I saw her. She looked like a painting, purple umbrella and silky scarf flying behind her. Carrying a little dog. In a trench coat! The woman, not the dog. She was perfect, I wanted to hang her on my wall and look at her while I ate my bran cereal every morning. She stood, waiting for the light to change so she could cross the street. She carried her little dog (terrier or some other pampered dog) in her left hand and clutched brown paper shopping bags in her right. I considered getting up off the cold bench and offering to help her, but saw my bus chugging up the street and changed my mind. I stood, grabbed my briefcase full of paperwork and Hostess snacks, and brushed the rainwater off my pants. I looked back at the picturesque woman and saw her drop her bag of groceries. She bent to pick them up and her little dog flew from her arms and into the street. She released her umbrella, her scarf blew into her face and cans of pears and pineapple rolled into the middle of the intersection. Even her turmoil was stunning. Before I knew what I was doing I found myself running onto the slick asphalt to her aid. Like a knight in shining armor.
I’m kind of a fast runner, I ran track and field in high school. When I was six and in first grade I beat everybody in Mrs. Farson’s class every recess, from the hoop to the fence. I remember running my last race senior year, as I was sprinting I looked in the stands and saw a little girl with a balloon and pigtails spill soda on her brother. What I remember seeing as I ran on February 25 was this woman’s face as she looked up and saw me. Her eyes registered mine, then they got wider and her eyebrows crunched her forehead. I smiled and she screamed.
And then all I remember was the smell. The rain and gas and road smell. Staring up at the rain, blinking and twitching as the drops smacked my face. And now I’m here, in the white-washed and the bed sheets and the paper shoes. Still watching Spanish soap operas, still frozen to the seat. But I’m not headed for pushing papers. Can’t head for anything. Still thinking of dying and rotting and no one noticing until the smell inconveniences them. I was staring at the ceiling and thinking of dead body smell and wondering how it compared to cripple smell, when I saw those eyes again. The eyes that belong in a masterpiece. My toes tingled and a slight smile twitched onto my face as she told me her name.