But, no, I am mistaken. The wheelchair man turns around and faces me. "Excuse me," he grumbles with a thick, unplaceable accent. "Can you..." he trails off. "I don't know how to say." He gestures to the white bucket in his lap, which is encrusted all over with wispy bluish-black tar. "My ... my tub. Can you put in my trunk?" He points behind him.
I cock my head like a puzzled dog and consider the man. He is clearly in need of some assistance, and I want to provide it for him. As though an immigrant without the use of his legs doesn't have it hard enough, this man's life, for obscure reasons, involves toting a heavy bucket around with him on the bus. And here I am at the bus stop, awash in leisure, humming under my breath a song about how I need time to stay useless, on my way to a club where I'll spend way too much money on overpriced cocktails, where I'll mingle and dance and sing and laugh. Even the least literal reading of Matthew 25:45 would suggest that I have an obligation to provide this man with whatever he needs. And I'd like to. But I believe he just asked me to put his tub in his trunk.
He sighs. "This," he says, lightly lifting the bucket. "In there," he says, jabbing his thumb toward the basket attached to the back of his wheelchair.
"You want me to put the bucket in the basket?"
This I can do. And what a relief it is. All I have to do is pick up a heavy bucket and wedge it securely into a basket and I can feel like a good person who has earned his imminent evening of music and self-indulgence. It's a bargain, really. All it costs me is a few brief seconds of awkwardness, and I'm used to that. Most seconds are awkward.
I lift the bucket and, scrunching aside a weathered McDonald's bag that--while I'm no expert--appears to be several redesigns old, I attempt to fit it into the basket. It is considerably too large.
"No, no," the man says. "Use the ... use the ... I don't know the word ... use the wire. You tie?"
"The wire?" I ask.
"Yes, yes, the wire."
I look down. There are, I suppose, what could be called wires jutting this way and that, but they're thick--thicker than hanger wires--and they don't appear to be detachable. I pull at them anyway, just to make sure I'm doing my due diligence, figuring that I must be missing something. I cut my finger.
"No," the man says. "The ... the wire, you know?"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand what you're asking me to do."
"The wire, see," he says. "In the trunk. What is it in the trunk?"
The only thing in the basket besides the McDonald's bag is a mound of thin rope bunched together in a Christmas light tangle. I pull it out and show it to him.
"Yes, yes, this wire," he says, taking it into his lap and beginning to untangle it. This process takes longer than I'd prefer. I stare longingly to the west. No bus approaches.
With the rope finally untangled, he holds one end low and stretches the other end tight across his torso like a seatbelt. "Yes," he says. "You see? Tight."
Does he want me to tie him up? If that's what he wants, I guess I'm willing to do it, but I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea. Is he not securely fastened into his wheelchair already? Will the 704 be making a detour past the land of the Sirens? Or are we just getting plain old kinky? And what does any of this have to do with his bucket?
I take the rope from him in order to commence tying him up. But I stop, realizing that moving forward would be a pretty bold move without further confirmation of his intentions. "I'm not sure I understand what I'm doing," I say.
"Tight," he cryptically responds.
"I ... I'm sorry, I don't understand."
He takes the rope back from me. "Here, yes, hand me tub," he says. I hand him the bucket. He proceeds to tie a knot around the handle. "There," says, handing it back to me. He juts his thumb backwards again. "You tie please. Tight."
Apparently, I finally realize, he wants me to tie the bucket to the back of his wheelchair. This seems simple enough, though honestly I'm not confident in my ability to perform this task competently, and furthermore I'm still confused about what that business was with him using the rope to straddle his upper body a few seconds ago.
I search in vain for someplace on the back of his chair to tie the bucket. There's nothing. No loops, no hooks. I could use the mesh of the basket, but it's so low to the ground that there's no way the bucket wouldn't end up dragging along behind him.
"I ... I'm sorry," I say. "I don't understand how you want me to do this."
He sighs. "Tie," he says. "Tie tight!"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand." I'm getting a bit frantic at this point. My desire to help and be a useful member of a community is in a dire competition with my sudden desire to flee. My finger is bleeding and there will be no opportunity to sterilize the wound for at least an hour. I can already feel my jaw tightening with hypochondria. "I don't see anyplace to tie it. I'm sorry. I want to help you. I want to be good. I don't understand. I'm sorry. I don't understand. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." I look up and see the bus approaching. "I'm sorry. The bus is coming."
Taking his bucket back, he waves me off without a word. The bus pulls over and he rides the ramp through the entrance. He exchanges a few brief words with the bus driver, who effortlessly ties the bucket to the back of the wheelchair.
The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur.