The Couple on Bus 38B

grayscale photo of people sitting inside a bus
Photo by Steve Aksnes on

A week or so ago, I was thinking about my old life, and I started to wonder about the “Couple on Bus 38B.” I first wrote about them a long time ago and published their story on a personal blog that doesn’t exist anymore. I thought I’d post their story here. After rereading it (I forgot, for a moment, how it ended), I decided I should add the following caveat so that you are not too disappointed: “The Couple on Bus 38B” may not meet your expectations.


I noticed the woman with long, grey hair and big eyes on the route that took me from Arlington to Washington, D.C. first. She got on the bus before I did. I had been taking that route nearly every weekday for about two years, and I hadn’t seen her before.

Though it was late fall, and the mornings often felt grey, she seemed to be in better spirits than the rest of us. She greeted people and looked about the bus with a pleasant expression on her face. One day, I noticed that she spoke to a man in a red, puffy coat, who got on the bus a few stops after me. I do not know if they knew each other outside of Bus 38B, but his red coat, her happy disposition, and their chit chat made it hard to ignore the pair.

Everyday, I made sure to catch the bus at the same time each morning because I wanted to watch the woman with the long hair and the man with the red coat. When the bus approached the man in the red coat’s stop, I noticed she would sit up straighter in her chair and a small smile stretched across her face.

When they talked, the woman would flip her hair and smile. I watched the man in the red coat, but he didn’t do any guy version of hair flipping and smiling. It was obvious that she liked him, but I wasn’t sure if he liked her.

For days I debated with myself about whether or not I should talk to the woman about her friendship with the man in the red coat. I didn’t want to be nosy, but I wanted to know what would happen. I made up my mind to ask as soon as I could because I would be moving to Alexandria soon, and I wouldn’t take Bus 38B anymore.

A few days later, I was glad to see the woman with the big eyes sitting in her normal spot. I grabbed a seat that was close to hers. I couldn’t decide when I should approach her.

“Should I scoot over and ask her now?” I thought. “Would that be awkward since the man in the red coat hasn’t gotten on the bus yet?” I decided to wait until the man in the red coat got off the bus. He always exited before I did.

As the man’s stop approached, the woman with the big eyes peeked out the window, straightened her posture and smiled, just as she always did. I giggled on the inside.

A few moments later, the man in the red coat got on the bus and sat beside his friend. The woman gave him a Christmas card in a beige envelope.

I smiled. “This is so cute,” I said to myself.

The man in the red coat flipped the card around in his hand, smiled and thanked the woman. “There’s no name on it?” he asked, chuckling. “Generic.” He smiled again.

For the next ten minutes or so, I didn’t pay much attention to what the couple talked about because I was trying to decide how I was going to ask the woman if she liked the man in the red coat. I knew I was nosy, but when I thought about how friendly she was, I didn’t think she’d mind. Soon, the bus arrived at the man’s stop. The friends said their goodbyes, and he got off. My stop was the very next one, so time was limited. I forced myself out of my seat and carefully sat down beside the woman with the big eyes.

I smiled. “I’m sorry,” I said, avoiding eye contact. “I don’t want to be nosy, but I just have to know. Do you like the man in the red coat?”

“Yes, I do. Is it obvious?” she asked. “Do you think he likes me?”

I smiled back. “Well, I think you made it very clear that you like him.” I thought about the Christmas card and how she invited him to Christmas dinner with her family.

“But I don’t know if he likes you. What do you think?” I was afraid to tell her what I thought and didn’t want to waste the few seconds I had on my opinion. I looked out the window, realizing I had missed my stop. I decided to get off at the next one.

The woman with the big eyes said something I couldn’t understand, and when I asked her to repeat herself, she said she was married.

“It isn’t good,” she said, referring to her marriage. “It’s been that way for a while. What do you think my husband would say?”

I paused for a second or two. I was sad she wasn’t single like her bare ring finger suggested, and I was sad that she was so unhappy. I wanted her and the man in the red coat to fall in love and get married. I knew my dream was naive, but their friendship seemed so simple and perfect on the bus.

“I don’t think your husband would like that very much,” I said. I felt awkward now, and didn’t want to say something that would offend her. I didn’t know anything about her situation, but when she told me she was married, my dream of the woman with the big eyes and the man in the red coat skipping into the sunset ended.

I can’t remember exactly what she said in reply, but I remember she nodded a little. She was married, and it wouldn’t work. The bus driver approached the next stop. “I’m sorry. This is my stop,” I said. “I missed the last one. I just had to know about your friend because I won’t be on the bus anymore. I’m moving.”

I smiled, and she smiled back. Then, we said goodbye and parted ways.

I walked to the office dreading the day ahead and feeling disappointed. She was married, and there wouldn’t be a perfect conclusion like there are in the movies.

I wondered if I should have kept my questions to myself, preserving their bubbly friendship in my mind forever, even if I would always wonder about the outcome. I wondered if it was better to know that their relationship wasn’t perfect and never would be. I couldn’t decide then, and I still can’t decide now.



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