Bus Ride


It was one of those warm summer afternoons, the kind of day that seems to envelop the mind in daydreams and push out thoughts of work or study. While I’d been on my mission, this had been the hardest kind of day to keep my mind on the work. Now it was the same way with school. Since before noon I’d been up in the foothills east of campus collecting root samples. My lab partner and I had been collecting them for a botany project. It had taken us about twice as long as it should have, because we spent as much time chasing butterflies as we did collecting plants. After we had finally completed our collection, my lab partner had given me a ride in his car back to civilization, and I’d got on a bus to go home. It was Friday afternoon, and with the quiet influence of the early summer day still in my mind, I decided as I rode along to dedicate Saturday to sunny beaches and cool water.

I was beginning to imagine the day in a little finer detail when the air brakes gave a familiar hiss and I noticed a small Chicano boy getting on at the front of the bus. The bus was about half full. There were several empty seats between the front of the bus and where I was sitting so I paid little attention. Gazing back out the window, I let my mind drift again to my imaginary weekend.

But just as I was getting back to my daydreams, I saw that boy again out of the corner of my eye. He had passed two empty seats and seemed to be coming straight for the one next to me.

He was about nine or ten, dressed in well-faded but clean pants and a red-checkered shirt. The shirt seemed a little too big, it probably used to belong to his elder brother. As he approached, I stared determinedly out the window, hoping he’d pass by my seat and sit in one of the empty ones behind. But he didn’t.

“Hi, mister,” he said, sitting down next to me. He had a smile so big it seemed about a size and a half too wide for his face. I didn’t want to smile back, but his grin was too contagious; I couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Hello,” I answered, trying to regain my stern composure.

“It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, “it is a nice day.” This time I managed not to smile, and I looked back out of the window hoping that would end the conversation. It was a day too well suited for daydreaming to waste talking to some little boy about the weather. There was silence for a moment, and I began to relax again. I began to imagine playing volleyball on the beach.

“Hey, mister, are you married?”

“What?” I asked, turning back to the boy. His smile, if possible, seemed even a little wider than before.

“Are you married?”

“No,” I answered coldly, hoping he’d realize I didn’t want to talk to him.

“Oh,” he said, looking down disappointed, his smile disappearing. I seemed to have momentarily surprised him. He was thinking. Then in an instant he looked up again, his eyes brighter than ever. “But you’re going to get married, right?”

I tried not to smile, but his eyes and that row of teeth made it impossible. “Yes,” I said smiling back. “I guess I will.”

“And when you get married, mister, are you going to love your wife?”

Now he had surprised me. The question seemed out of place coming from someone so young. I felt like he was leading up to something, but I wasn’t sure what. “Of course,” I answered cautiously, “of course I will.”

“And when you love somebody, you always want to be with them, don’t you, mister, even after you die?”

Suddenly I realized what he was doing. He was asking me a Golden Question. He was a Mormon. I sat there looking at him. I didn’t answer; I didn’t know what to say. How many times had I asked almost that same question? How many times on the buses and streets of Brazil while I was on my mission? But that was my mission; that was then, not now. It seemed inconceivable that those same words were being repeated to me here, at home, by a ten-year-old boy. The bus was slowing rapidly and the boy stood up, taking something from his pocket and giving it to me.

“Hey, mister, I have to get off here. Take this. It’s got the name of two of my friends on it. If you want to know more, give them a call. Good-bye, mister.” And he was gone.

I sat staring at the pamphlet he had given me. It was folded in half and a little tattered at the corners. I unfolded it and read the title, “The Plan of Salvation.”

I’d come home from my mission almost two years ago. I’d brought home my missionary journal, color slides, souvenirs, and a lot of memories. But I’d left my mission behind. How many people had I told about the Church in the time I’d been home? How many Golden Questions had I asked? How many nonmembers did I know who might be interested if only I’d bring up the subject? I’d just been taught a lesson about missionaries that I hadn’t learned in the whole time I’d been on a mission, and it had been taught to me by a young boy with nothing but a testimony and a smile.

The bus was filling up with people now. We were near the center of town and it was almost 5:00. A young man in a business suit sat down next to me. Self-consciously I stuffed the pamphlet in my shirt pocket and looked down at my feet. I was still thinking about that boy; as young as he was, he was still more of a missionary than I’d ever been. I glanced up again. The man next to me was looking out the window, probably daydreaming.

“It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” I said without thinking.

“Yes,” he smiled back, “a very pretty day.”

I sat for a moment, touching the pamphlet in my pocket. Then, with my biggest smile, I asked, “Are you married?”