(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nothing extraordinary happens on the first or any of the subsequent bus rides that the narrator takes between her home in San Francisco and her job in Sacramento, a fact that makes her attitude toward buses and the people on them even more puzzling and interesting. She is never accosted or threatened. Her worst experience is being asked, on her first ride, to move out of a seat claimed by a burly black man: She moves, and the incident is over.

However, the narrator is a study in paranoia. In the first of the eleven unnumbered sections of the story, the narrator is afraid that she has gotten on the wrong bus. Her fellow passengers look strange, intimidating. She puts her briefcase on the adjoining seat so that no one can sit next to her. The bus driver apparently takes the incorrect number of coupons from her ticket book, a circumstance she regards as “mysterious”; a mentally disabled boy makes a “senseless” racket in the back; and so on. However, the narrator’s exposure to this apparently hostile environment seems to work a healthy change in her, noticeable even by the end of the first section, where she “yearns to,” but does not, join in the general applause for the black woman who has the last word in an argument.

In the second and very brief section of the story, the narrator describes her “situation.” She is recently divorced and living with an older woman, Hortense. She lives with Hortense not because of any lesbian tendency, she assures the reader, but out of “sheer dependency.” After this brief meditation, the narrator is back on the bus completing the journey to San Francisco. On one leg of the trip she makes friends with a young black woman who works with mentally challenged children. The narrator feels guilty about siding with the black woman against the...

(The entire section is 741 words.)