I was waiting for the bus one day after work, and after checking and double checking that I was indeed waiting for the right bus going in the right direction (a constant challenge for me), my cell phone rang. It was my mom calling from the States, and we chatted over the street noise until I saw my bus approaching.
"Hold on a minute," I told her, "I have to get on the bus and pay my fare."
I was wearing one of my favorite dresses, a black and white giraffe patterned number that I bought in Madrid on the weekend my niece was born. I stepped onto the bus and swiped my fare card while holding my cell phone to my ear with my shoulder.* The bus driver, a pleasant-looking African man in his thirties, stood up as I boarded, and planted himself in front of me.
"I'm sorry, but I cannot take you**," he said, grinning.
"Hold on, Mom," I said into my phone, and then to him, "I'm sorry?" For a second there, I thought he was going tell me I couldn't board the bus while talking on my cell phone because it might disturb other passengers. This actually happened to me with a taxi at 2AM on a Saturday. I had to hang up before the driver would let me into her cab. But she was sort of freaky, anyway.
But back to the bus driver.
"I cannot take you," he repeated, "you are too charming."
I laughed. "How sweet," I replied, while trying to sidestep him to take a seat.
"No, seriously," he insisted, "I cannot take you, Mademoiselle, I'm sorry. But you really are too beautiful."
I let out a sort of 'mmheh, mmheh' polite chuckle, because, really, this was getting old fast.
"Okay, but is there some other problem?" I tried.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Um, the Gourgaud stop?" Suddenly I thought I might actually, despite all my double checking, be on the wrong bus.
"Well, technically, I am not supposed to take anyone at this stop because it is the terminus," he explained.
Nowhere on that route map did it say that this was the terminus, goddammit, I thought to myself.
"But because it is you," he beamed, "I will let you have a seat so you can accompany me to the next stop."
"Thank you, that's very kind of you," I said, "But I warn you, this is my mother I have on the phone, so you'd better be on your best behavior."
I could hear her voice from the phone in my hand. It reminded of a train trip we took to Prague from Paris, where the seats in our car pulled out into a reclining position, so when laying down, my feet were in front of her face. Next over from her was a Frenchman, and since he and I were facing each other, we naturally got to talking in French. It was polite talk, and despite taking place other over my mother's feet, it had a distinct air of sensuality as we lounged on our sides, leaning on our elbows, and rocking to the rhythm of the train. My mother quickly got tired of being left out of the conversation, and promptly stuck her finger in my sock to poke my foot saying, "What are you two talking about?"
The bus driver laughed and said, "Tell her I would love to be able to call her 'Mother' some day."
"Oh ho!" I remarked, thinking good lord, that was quite a leap.
"Well?" he said.
"Hmm?" I replied, starting to raise my phone back up to my ear. My poor mother was paying for this call.
"It's usually the first step to get the approval of the daughter," he teased.
"Usually, yes, it is," I replied, thinking, finally, it's time for the 'I'm not interested' part. Maybe after we get that over with, I can finally sit down. I've always had trouble responding to a man's compliment or flirtation by abruptly announcing I'm taken. I consider that being on the receiving end does not commit me to anything other than a 'thank you'. I'd rather take the compliment like a lady and leave it at that. But rarely do things end there. Especially in France.
"Well?" he pressed.
"Well that's all very sweet of you, but I'm taken," I said. "And very happy," I added, anticipating the I-don't-care-if-you-have-a-boyfriend-let's-have-a-little-fun-anyway reply.
"Aww, too bad," he said, looking genuinely disappointed. He finally moved aside to let me take a seat.
I sat down in a window seat and put my phone up to my ear. "Sorry about that, Mom," I said.
"What were you two talking about?" she prodded.
* I know I shouldn't do that, Handsome, I know.