What people want, they can’t always have.
The bus stopped briefly in Washington. The teenagers and some others left; new people boarded and soon the bus was rumbling away from the station.
The woman next to Kitty got off briefly after asking her if she would watch her stuff. Now she settled back in her seat and was again searching through her purse for something.
“Got you these,” she held up a bag of pretzels, small round ones. “For looking after my stuff. You like pretzels?”
“Yes. Yes I do. Thank you.” Kitty took the bag and their fingers brushed for a second.
Kitty tore at the corner of the bag until it opened. She placed a pretzel in her mouth. The salt tang made her think of a time long ago when she and her brothers had found a bag of pretzels behind some plates in a kitchen cabinet. They had eaten the whole bag before their mother caught them. She turned and smiled at the woman.
“My name is Kitty. Actually Katherine Marie. But my family all called me Kitty ever since I was a baby.”
“Mine’s Alva. Just plain old Alva. Don’t know why my mama stuck that on me. Would’ve been glad for a nickname, but what you gonna do with Alva?”
“Well, Alva, you know what I do – or at least what I’m going to do – so what do you do?”
“Oh lord, I guess I done just about everything on this earth one time or another. Started out I wanted to be a singer. You know, in clubs. Like Billie Holiday. Sung in some good ones, too, when I was young. Now . . . well it’s a different world out there now, what with the kids and what they’re doing.” She started humming God Bless The Child. “You know that one?”
“Maybe. But I really never listened to much music. Except a long time ago.”
“Not listen to music much? Girl, that’s like saying you don’t breathe much. Music’s all around you, in everything you do, in every beat of your heart.”
“I just never thought about it,” Kitty said. “You’re lucky to have a talent. I never had any. Not in anything. I guess it’s different if you’re born with some special gift.”
“I wouldn’t say I have no special gift. Not for singing anyhow. I started cooking some time back and now I run a little neighborhood restaurant. It’s done pretty good, too, probably because I like to eat.” She chuckled. “So I get along.”
Alva hummed another part of the song. “That why you going up there to them nuns? Because you got no talent?”
“Oh no, nothing like that.”
“Then why? I mean why does a woman want to give up everything and lock herself away from the world in a hen house of other women? No offense meant, you understand.”
Kitty didn’t say anything. She leaned her head back against the seat and turned to watch out the window. Cars and trucks swept past. Everyone was heading toward the Baltimore tunnels. Big signs announced how many miles farther.
The bus would be stopping again to unload and reload. People going places, with things to do and see, important things Kitty assumed. Everyone thought what they were doing was special. Everyone had a purpose. And now, finally, her life had a purpose, too. Could anyone else understand that? Was there any reason to explain it?
“I suppose it’s hard for someone like you to understand,” she said turning to face Alva.
“Someone like me? You mean a old, fat, black lady?”
“Oh no. I didn’t mean that. I meant someone with a gift. You can sing a little, and you can cook so people pay to eat your food. That’s a gift. I have nothing special. Except a little feeling in here.” Kitty pointed to her heart.
“Honey, we all got gifts. The Lord, he don’t tell us what they are all the time, but he give ’em out just the same.”