The Egged bus from Beersheva to Arad is always packed and yesterday was no exception.
Young soldiers and hotshot teens from the Air Force Tech High School jostle the paying customers pushing their way ahead of everyone to grab seats where they can drift off to sleep on their way home from the bases in the Negev. Old Russian ladies grumble loudly and occasionally shove others aside, indignant that anyone would venture ahead of them. Dark-eyed Bedouin women, their faces framed by beautiful scarves, wait patiently till the others find their places, sometimes holding babies, sometimes gently holding an older child's hand; they never, ever scrabble or fight to find a place the way so many others do. So many different kinds of people packed into one coach-sized bus hand their money or their bus tickets to the driver as they move along. The driver was working as fast as he could to keep the traffic flowing smoothly -- until I climbed aboard.
As usual, I handed him my bus pass with a greeting. He smiled in reply, but did not let go of my ticket. There we were, connected by the small card, trapped together in the front of the bus. I had no idea why and he wasn't talking. I tugged. He held on. Perplexed, I tugged again. Preoccupied, he simply didn't let go.
"What's up?" I inquired. It didn't make sense.
He glanced at a young girl sitting in the front seat. "She doesn't have the money for the fare."
She colored. "I said I will bring it to you later. You know I am good for it."
He shook his head and looked straight at me. "She can't pay for the fare. You have a ticket."
Oh, right. I got it. "So what's the big deal? Just take it out of mine. " It didn't bother me.
"We'll split it," he corrected me. "Half from you and half from me. You pay with your ticket and I will give you change." He smiled. I smiled.
"No no no no NO!!!" the girl wailed. "I can PAY it, I said!! I will bring it to you tonight!"
Meanwhile, the driver punched my ticket and got the bus on the road. I sat next to her. "You don't understand," I said soothingly. "I have a discounted ticket, with two free rides anyway. I didn't pay anything. It was one of the freebies." The driver nodded his approval.
"If you are really worried about it, we can split it three ways, okay? He'll pay 5 shekels, I pay 5 shekels and you can put 5 shekels in the pushka when you get home."
She didn't like this compromise either, but at the end she was outvoted and finally gave up. The driver grinned at me. I grinned back. Anyway it comes out of the kitty," he added. "Big deal."
The girl moved to the back, murmuring her thanks and insistence that she would pay him back. He laughed. "Put it in the pushka," he told her.
I nodded my approval. That's what a Jewish State is all about.