I wrote this for a class I took. The challenge was to describe a scene on a bus or subway, but keep the adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. It’s super short, but one of my favorites.
Gladys stepped onto the bus, clutching her purse to her chest as if it contained drops of an antidote that would cure the ails of everyone on this bus, if they could take it from her. She handed her coins to the bus driver and managed a smile before shuffling down the aisle.
The space reserved for the elderly and disabled was occupied by the heft of a man who filled his suit like a sausage in cloth casing, straining every seam and button. His eyes were closed and his head was resting on the folds of skin cascading from the bottom of his frown to the top of his suit.
Wedged next to him was a man in a three piece suit and a hat that looked and smelled like it had been in someone’s attic for the better part of a decade. One shriveled hand grasped the walker in front of him, and he stooped so low that it appeared he had found something on his knee that required examination.
She neared an open seat in the second row, and her stomach somersaulted when she breathed a concoction of lavender and ash tray. The woman sitting by the window was put together head-to-toe like a mannequin in the window at Sax. She tapped a cigarette against her skirt, marking out the seconds until she could light it and end her suspension of nicotine intake. “The perfume doesn’t help, Sweetie,” Gladys whispered and moved on without noticing if the woman had heard or not.
She spied a seat past the woman talking into a baby carrier; past the man who had begged enough change to pay for his escape from the winter outside; past the two boys whose angel faces belied their gangster appearance; and past the hippopotamus of a woman swimming in her floral muumuu. Gladys sighed and began to move toward it when a man who could have been Clark Gable’s great-grandson stood in front of her.
He held a hand out to Gladys and gestured with the other to the seat he had just vacated. She accepted both his seat and his help in getting her there. As she settled her purse into her lap, she looked up once more at the gentleman. “You know,” she said, “you keep smiling like that and the bus driver is going to have switch off the heater.”
“Well, I’ll let him know,” he laughed. “But maybe he should keep it on since this is my stop.” With that, he worked his way to the front, where he paused to help the bent-over man get up and off the bus. Gladys smiled to herself as she watched him go, Mr. Gable would be proud.