Sometimes you don’t see them coming. Sometimes you do. When the man in the grey t-shirt punched me in the jaw, my head had been turned, as I spoke in Spanish to my new protector and temporary guardian that I will call St. Abraham. The closed fist rounded in on the left hand side of my jaw, square and dead on the bone. I never saw it coming.
I had been reading a book called “The Shack”, an interesting specific journey into one man’s grappling with the heart of the question, “why do bad things happen to good people”. Headphones plugged my ears with light strains of Patty Griffin’s voice but even still I could hear a man say, “I missed my stop.” Innocent enough, I turned to look at him for a moment, pitying that situation, it could happen to anyone. Except this guy’s belt was unbuckled, the zipper to his pants hung between completely unzipped to fully zipped. Like seeing a racoon ambling along in daylight, I knew something about this guy was wrong. Even as he surveyed me in my quick momentary glance, he went and sat next to another man and I resumed reading.
That is until from the corner of my eye I discerned he had stood up and yelled “4, 5, 6!” down to the man seated on his right. He rushed over and stood in a small alcove in front of my single seat. While my heart palpitated mildly, I read on and stayed in the book. He was by now animatedly talking to himself and I passed it off as schizophrenia. At one point, I now discerned he had two fingers pointing at me and then erratically he pulled himself back into his space, but then later began gesturing and hovering his hands, his fingers over my head, around my person. I began praying and tried to keep my attention in the book because now that my music had finished I could hear him scream in little whispers the word “fight!” and his wild animal eyes never left my face. I looked up at him once and began grasping for a plan of action.
A man came in the back door, ready to entice passengers into his game of bottle caps. He maneuvered a morsel of a red jelly bean from one bottle cap to the next, trying to engage someone in his game. I knew this might involve money, but it also gave a great, natural impetus to turn away. The bottlecap gamer came my way and began his game. I kept my eye intently on the jelly bean, I never lost its progress, its track somehow felt tied up in my own. And yet behind me those hands kept reaching for me, never touching me, that shrill whisper hissing in my direction. A black man who entered at the same time as the bottlecap gamer asked, “Why is he in your face?” To this I replied, “I don’t know.” He suggested I move. As I got up to walk further back I could see my schizophrenic shadow loomed close behind. He was following me. At this my heartbeat raced in furtive jumps, salmon fighting their way downstream. The black man asked if we were together and I replied, “No, he’s been threatening me.” And within a few moments the black man had wedged himself between me and the shadow, saying, “He’s not going to touch you.”
Enter St. Abraham of Yucatan. The black man got off at his exit and made sure that I knew he was leaving me in the stead of St. Abraham, that “nothing was going to happen.” One exit after the black man exited, my shadow returned at my side, persistent and reeking of cloying mashed corn. St. Abraham got up and asked me to take his seat. We continued speaking in our mothers’ tongue to each other about Mexico’s beauty, the rich wonderfulness that is mole and then of course how we would proceed. He had agreed to go past his stop and walk me to the cafe where I was planning to meet a business colleague. We were just finalizing the plans when the bus slowly lurched to its stop and my shadow became flesh touching flesh and punched me. St. Abraham and the shadow began a tussle in the back of the bus. The shadow fled down the stairs but stood on the sidewalk yelling obscenities back at St. Abraham.
I got off in a daze. The shock continued settling in even amidst diversions until my jaw had begun to swell and a dull headache had set in. At the E.R. that evening, a prescription of a week of soft foods and Advil cocktails took care of the physical ailments. The policeman encouraged me next time to use my “spidey” senses. But on came the emotional ailments, the spiritual. Somehow I felt no anger toward the shadow. Even now, I cannot conjure it up, the fear lasted a week. I am left with a bite that isn’t proportionate and choosing not to fear what this could mean, especially because I’m so meticulous about my mouth on a daily basis anyway. Even the loose tooth has finally resettled and I am easing back into chewing with my whole mouth.
These things happen. We can be careful and we can be in prayer, walking upright lives with God and yet the gales come. It makes Him no less powerful. It makes me crane my knees in gratitude for the men who risked their necks for the stranger, me, threatened and seemingly abandoned in a bus full of eyes and no feet or hands, no mouths or ears. Gratitude that he will heal the calluses that remain on my soul, earmarkers of my need for dependency of Him, throttling out of my independent wild colt of a heart.