By Janet Johnson
At age fifteen I took a Greyhound bus to visit a friend in another city. As I waved goodbye to my mom I was excited but a little nervous being on my own for the first time. An unshaven man in a black overcoat leaned across the aisle toward me. “Wha’sher name, honey?” he asked.
I smelled alcohol on his breath. I didn’t want to answer but I’d been taught to be “nice”, so I said, “My name’s Jan.”
“J-a-n, you’re so beautiful,” he cooed. Disgusted, I turned away and looked out my window. “Jan, your hair is so shiny.” Worried he might try and change seats, I put my suitcase on the aisle seat next to me.
He raised his voice and talked of caressing my body. Alarmed, I wanted to move, but changing seats meant I’d have to go right past him. I squished up against the window instead.
“Jan,” he called. I peeked his way in case he tried to touch me. “You don’t wanna talk to me? But I’m your friend.”
Every time I peeked to make sure he was staying put, he slobbered out new thoughts about my body. Finally he lurched up out of his seat into the aisle. “Jan, look!” he said as he opened his coat and dropped his pants. I had never before seen what this exposed.
With a cry I put my hands up to somehow protect myself. Amidst shouts and cries, two men leapt to my rescue, wrestling the drunk to the back of the bus. Our driver called back, saying he would eject the pervert at the next stop.
As the drunk shrieked out more twisted fantasies I heard a kinder voice and looked up. A young man standing in the aisle said he was a marine on leave. He asked if I’d feel better if he sat between me and the drunk. He had a look that said “safe”. Somehow I knew he was trustworthy. Relieved, I nodded and moved my suitcase.
At the next stop the drunk was dragged off the bus, and the handsome marine stood up. The drunk’s view of me was blocked as he shouted out one last desire.
Since I was still shaky, the marine sat with me the next three hours and told me funny stories to make me laugh, helping me forget the drunk. At my stop the marine got off with me, carried my suitcase and escorted me to my friend Marie and her parents. I flung my arms around her and started to tell her about the abusive man. But when I remembered to introduce my marine, he was gone.
Thirty years later, I still think of my marine when I’m in a situation where someone can use a kind word or a hand; and I step in and help. Although I don’t remember his name, his kindness influences me still.