(Something I wrote on the spur of the moment.)
The bus screeches to a halt. It's three minutes late. One of those anomalies that you only notice if you have been catching buses at this particular stop for a long, long time. The bus driver accepts your dollar wordlessly and you sit down in your seat, facing inwards. There are four other people on the bus. A young man sitting in the far corner, biting his lip and staring out the window. A woman, her eyes slightly red, possibly from allergies, sits a little down from you on the same side. She seems preoccupied, and does not respond, when a second man, dressed in a crisp suit and tie bumps her by accident. This man sits down, and proceeds to open a newspaper. The last person is the bus driver, an elderly black man who seems as though he could be amiable enough, if only his job involved speaking.
Normally these people would be grey blurs in your field of vision.
Today you have the power to know everything about these individuals.
The young man sitting in the corner is biting his lip, not out of a sense of tension, or nervousness at something tangible, but rather because he has Anxiety Disorder. He spent three years in a federal penitentiary for check fraud. When he came home, his newborn daughter didn't recognize him. He is now thinking about a job interview, which this bus is taking him to. If he doesn't find work soon, he doubts his parents will ever speak to him again.
The woman sitting next to you is not actually interested in her purse at all. She is thinking back to this morning, when she woke up to find her apartment vacant one person, namely, her fiancé. The red rings around her eyes are not, as you suspected, from an allergy, but from a crying spell, which lasted right up until the moment she pulled herself together and came to work today. By the time she gets to the office, the rings will be gone. She wonders, while staring unseeingly at the expensive leather handbag, what she will tell her parents, who were eagerly planning for an eventual wedding.
The well dressed businessman across from you is a representative for the Phillip-Morris tobacco conglomerate. He spends his days finding ways to rationalize the intake of harmful chemicals to the populace at large. Needless to say, from the lavish brand of tie and watch he is sporting, it can be ascertained that he is highly successful at his job. Likewise, the nervous twitch in his pinky finger suggests that while he may not admit it to anyone, even himself, he cannot entirely justify his line of work to his conscience. The sleeping medications do not help.
Finally, the bus driver was three minutes late today due to a mechanical problem in the bus depot. Only a brief shouting match with the resident mechanic got him onto a different bus. Not that his usual passengers would notice the difference, he thinks sullenly. This particular individual is not at all satisfied with his line of work. He drives the same route every day, and has been doing so for years. Not once has anyone talked to him, so pervasive is the morning attitude of silence. He resents being sidelined into this avenue of work, when, back in Chicago, he was a prominent painter, and local celebrity.
The next time you're waiting for a car to pick you up, or squirming uncomfortably in the waiting room of a dentist, take a look at the people around you. Every face has a story. Every story is unique. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.