December 13, 2017

Right Over Left

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’m not a seasoned bus rider.  Perhaps I should be.  Necessity constrains us all.  In any case, following a recent ‘procedure’ I was told not to drive.  Okay.  My wife and I made arrangements.  She would take me home, but I needed a ride to Union Street.  There’s a bus for that, right?

I left Ambulatory Surgery and headed to the hospital bus stop.

Sea gulls quarreled over questionable trash on sun-soaked grass.  Traffic rushed past, indifferent.

Otherwise, it was the usual scene.  Strangers thrown into proximity by common need, everyone looking everywhere else save at each other.
A bearded man paced behind the stop, sucking a cigarette and exhaling at the NO SMOKING sign.  A woman with four canvas bags took up most of the bench.  I sat at the far end, hunched over, elbows on my knees, staring at the cracked, butt-strewn sidewalk.

I glanced over.  The woman was elderly.  She sat precisely vertical.  Her knees were tight together, feet, ankles and calves encased in tall, black boots.  The leather was worn but polished.  The toes were rounded, the medium heels flared at the sole.

I studied my watch.  Assuming the posted schedule was current, we had several minutes to go.  Out of ennui, I began counting the eyelets on her boots, both to pass the time and get an estimate of how high they were.  There were eleven pair before the tops disappeared under a gingham skirt.

Something else struck me.  It took a moment to figure out what.  Finally it came.  It was the lacing.  The flat, black laces weren’t only arranged perfectly, but individually as well.  Her left boot was done up left over right.  The other boot, appropriately enough, was right over left.

It made me smile.  Without checking, I knew that my own shoes were laced identically regardless of which.  Not just the ones I was wearing, either.  All my shoes.

I glanced at the woman from under one arm and pointed.  “Nice boots.”
She lifted her skirt a bit.  “You like them?”

“Especially how they’re laced.”

She smiled in return.  “You’re the first to notice.”  She paused before explaining.  “You have to treat everything just so.  You can’t be forcing right over left onto left.  Anybody can see that’s not proper.”  She looked at me, gray eyes flashing large behind thick glasses.  “How’d you feel about that if it was you?”

I sat up.  “Oh, I don’t think I’d like that a bit.”

“Of course not,” she huffed.  “You have to pay attention to such things.”

“I’ve never thought about it quite that way,” I admitted, nodding agreement.

The roar of diesel exhaust stopped our conversation.  The bus, red, worn and advertised arrived.  I stood and offered to help her with her bags, raising my voice over the noise.

“Oh, no,” she exclaimed, clutching at her things.  “Take care of everything yourself. Always do it properly.”  She looked around suspiciously before leaning closer and whispering, “That way you know it’s done right.”  She gathered her bags and climbed onto the bus.

From behind I watched her place her boots exactly on each step and smiled again.

The ride to Union Street Athletics was uninteresting.  Transportation home waited once there.  But when I got here, I ran upstairs to our closet.  There, I re-laced all my shoes.  I did it properly, too, left over right on the left shoes, right over left on the right.  I laughed when I finished.

Probably no one will ever notice.

But you can’t be forcing right over left onto the left.  Neither can you do the converse.  In a world filled with lefts and rights of all varieties, anyone can see that’s just not proper.