BY PHILLYGRRL It’s surprisingly easy to resent the homeless man who uses the bench at your bus stop as a bed. Especially if you’re carrying three textbooks that weigh five pounds a piece and are waiting for a bus that comes once an hour. Last Thursday, as I waited for the 44 to come by at 13th and Market, I found the bench occupied by three elderly men – two black, one white – who were engrossed in a deep conversation when I came by. I stood for a minute before one man nudged the other who nudged the other and before I knew it, they had all moved over to clear a seat for me.
The one closest to me asks “Where you go to school, girl?”
I tell him.
“Temple, huh?” He thinks for a second and then slaps his knee. “That’s where Bill Cosby went at. That’s where Bill Cosby went, y’all.” The other two men nod. The white one chews on a cigarette. “Aren’t they raising your tuition? Isn’t Harrisburg raising your tuition?” I shrug my shoulders. He nods sympathetically.
“So, whatcha studying girl?” asks the one in the middle. “Show me your book.”
I show him my book. It’s a thick red casebook. He squints and tries to read the title, then gives up.
“Hmm, law, huh? You go girl. Don’t stop studying.” he says. Then he points to the statue of William Penn atop City Hall. “This is one of the most corrupt cities in America, girl. Don’t ‘cha forget that when you’re finished studyin.'”
We’re quiet. The night air is cool. A man walks across Market, holding a small child in his arms. She is asleep and has small pink ribbons braided in her hair.
“Now that’s a fine damn shame,” says the man beside me. “See that man with the baby? She oughta be in bed, that’s a crime there.”
The four of us shake our heads and murmur.
“What bus are you waiting for?” asks the man beside me. I tell him. He knows the schedule to the minute.
“Which bus are you waiting for?” I ask him.
“Aw, we don’t wait for no bus,” he says. “We just like sitting out here, enjoying the breeze.”
It is then that I notice the bags stuffed under the bench. I look at the men. They’re unshaven, unwashed. Their nails are overgrown and dirty. I recognize the man at the end, he’s usually the one sleeping on this bench. My bus comes. They all smile and wave goodbye. The one at the end hollers out, “Stay safe, study hard.” I wave back.