22 May 2008

Tales of Arabian Sights

Lydia boards an inbound 24 bus across Burnett from the Hoxworth clinic. She is sore as hell after having a couple of pre-cancerous lesions frozen with liquid nitrogen, one on her cheek, the other on her forehead. It's been raining, and her bandages are beginning to droop.

Lydia opens a window as the bus starts rolling, and enjoys the cool spring air and the smell of rain. She is looking forward to returning to her room, and doing nothing more taxing than propping her feet up, taking her second dose of Cymbalta, and watching CNN with the sound turned down. She has a P.D. James murder mystery to read during commercials.

Near Short Vine a man gets on and drops coins into the fare box. He has black hair, a dark two day stubble beard, and wears a tweed overcoat that has a tear at the shoulder. Although there is no overt sign of the man's ethnicity, Lydia suspects he is an Arab, or possibly Iranian. Her heart beats faster. She breathes in and out slowly, evenly. She doesn't want to have a panic attack on the Metro, although her attacks don't embarass her as much as they used to. Let people think what they want, she thinks. Just breath.

Just a half hour ago, Lydia was having her pre-cancerous lesions frozen in the Derm Clinic by Dr. Rija Qassim. Lydia wishes, despite the discomfort, that she was back there now. She felt safe with Dr. Qassim, safe with a careful, clinical, female touch. Lydia believes that Dr. Qassim is Italian. It does not occur to Lydia that Dr. Qassim is an Arab woman who chooses not to cover her head.

The driver tells the black haired man that the fare is now $1.50. The man scoffs and waves his hand dismissively "A buck fifty?" he asks. "Not. Buck's all you get. Gotta be kidding me."

The man lurches down the aisle and finds a seat near the rear door. He is quite drunk, and his fly is open, although nothing is on display. The bus driver picks up the phone to his left and speaks briefly with his supervisor. Lydia hears him say something about Christ Hospital before he hangs up and starts the bus moving again.

Nobody is waiting at Auburn and Taft, so it is a quick two minutes to Christ Hospital. A couple of hospital workers board the bus. Lydia's possibly Arab or Iranian man is muttering to himself about the taxes he pays, and the respect he unable to command. The man doesn't seem to notice that the bus is not moving.

A police car pulls in front of the bus. Two officers get out and approach slowly, eyeing the bus interior warily. The driver opens the front door, but leaves the rear doors closed. One officer stands at the head of the aisle, while his partner leans in and speaks with the driver. The first officer is listening while scanning the bus. Neither cop confers with the other, but after the driver describes the man who stiffed him, Lydia's possible Arab, both cops move down the aisle slowly.

Lydia decides not to look, although people around her are staring. The fare beater protests.

"What? Are you kidding me? This ain't right, man."

The officers lead him up the aisle, on in front, the other behind with his hand gripping the back of the man's collar.

"This is an injustice; I have a right to ride this bus. Man, you never get a break when your a f------ Mexican!"

The police don't actually arrest the guy. They leave him on the sidewalk, where he flips his middle finger at the busdriver. Lydia finds herself nodding in agreement when the old man sitting across the aisle remarks: "He say he a Mexican? Look to me like a damn Eye-raqui!"

There are nods and mumbled acknowledgements from several passengers. But there is no sympathy for the farebeater. Whether or not he fits anybody's mental image of what constitutes an real American, everybody pays the fare, no exceptions.

Is Lydia's bigotry a cognitive impairment caused by her mental illness, or a trigger for the panic attacks of which that illness is a feature? Is bigotry itself pathology? And if you posed these questions to her, what would she say?

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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