I’m on the 22-Fillmore, headed back to the Mission from Bay Street, sitting in a 4-seat row running lengthwise across from the back door. I sit at one end of the row. An older white woman sits two seats away.
Somewhere before Fell Street, a Black man boards through the back door. He is older, and wears a shabby jacket and pants, a dark baseball cap. He’s hunched over, carrying a cardboard box. Although I’m reading a novel, I look up and notice the man because he’s screaming. “DON’T TOUCH ME! FUCK YOU. DON’T TELL ME I’M NO GOOD. I’M AS GOOD AS YOU.”
He takes a seat one down from me, next to the white woman, who is somewhere in her 60s. “FUCK YOU!” he screams to no one in particular. I try to ignore him, and don’t make eye contact. Like the passengers across from us, I keep my head down and focused on my phone. I expect another outburst, then hear a murmuring.
I turn. The woman who sits next to the screamer is talking to him. I can’t make out the words, but the sound is soothing. She doesn’t look at him, but I know she’s talking to him. Then I hear her ask, “What’s in the box”? “Can I see?” she asks.
There is a pause. “Oh, a cake, a birthday cake,” she says. “Whose birthday?”
The screamer has calmed down and he’s looking at the cake in the box.
“Mine,” he says not looking at her.
“I just bought it, gonna take it home. Can’t wait to cut into it.”
She looks at him and sings, in the same low, calm, ethereal voice that only the man and I can hear, a long version of “Happy Birthday.” When she finishes, he reaches for her hand and they hold hands for a minute. Then she gets off the 22-Fillmore. I don’t remember much about her except she was wearing a Free Julian Assange button on a worn Levi jacket. When I get off, I wish the man a happy birthday. He nods and smiles.