Stuck in traffic on a public bus, one whose route has taken much longer than expected. Intoxicated by fumes from countless idling cars; all running yet getting nowhere. Enveloped by strangers, vehicles and the city. Exhausted by the day's work volunteering and tiredly yearning for a modest meal and my hostel bed. I sit, looking down, waiting for the eventual movement that will take me closer to small comforts and a night's rest.
A woman climbs aboard the unmoving bus; she is carrying a bag of candy. She glances around and, as I look at her face, I am taken aback. It is brutally scarred, burned, melted. Most people are unaware of her; lost in their own thoughts or sleepy dreams as they patiently await motion. Numerous questions, all underlined with pity, flood my mind within the short time it takes her to find a spot and part her lips.
Her first voiced breath takes my silent one away.
Perfectly pitched, emotive sounds flow out with strong vibrato. Others take notice; a few at first and then everyone, including the task-less driver. The song pulls me in, us in. 'Us', all considered 'others', 'strangers' just a minute ago. We are pulled together by the words emanating from this unknown woman. The traffic noises seem to fade away, as do her scars, and I hold back tears as I am overcome.
Her head is held high. Her eyes look above us, focused on something that seems beyond reality and she sings with abandon. It seems like an eternity and yet only a moment. And then, it's over. Her head bows slightly as we applaud her.
I stare, awestruck, as she begins to offer candy in return for spare coins. Most give money, few take a treat. As she turns to me I thank her, "Gracias". "Hermosa", beautiful, I say, as I give her what little money I have on me. With a slight, shy smile she quietly thanks me and moves on; unaware of the grace she has bestowed upon me, unaware of the effect she's had.
I watch as she steps off the bus to head up the street. And then, she's gone.