The woman is dirty in a worker’s way. Jeans grimed from outdoors, stuffed into the kind of tall rubber boots left on the front porch at night. Her fleece jacket was blue once, but now washed to gray. It’s zipped up to a soft, hand-knit pink scarf looped beneath her chin. Some strands of shiny hair escape a baseball cap. She sits carefully, tucking herself together, trying to be smaller in our shared seat. The bus is unusually full for a Wednesday. She got on at the big farm off the highway and heads north with the rest of us. She will work somewhere outside today. She smells like a cooked breakfast.
She pulls a yellowed paperback from the leather bag wedged between her feet. “Living the Good Life” the cover says. The book’s binding is broken and it falls open to her page.
I feel ashamed at my expensive bag, my pressed slacks, my scented lotion. I could be you, I say to her, in my mind. I have worked until my fingernails grew weak from so much earth caught under their white crescents. I have woken with the marks of a hundred blackberry branches across my arms and ankles. My hands have curled into claws after two days of pulling thin, tight weeds and sunburned moss from between the stones of my path.
You will breathe better than I will today, in your work. Your lungs will tell you that you are alive, and good.