On Wednesdays I ride the number 24 with Ambrose. I stay on til the end of the line, I live a block from the bus station. The boy gets off at the downtown exchange.
The first time I met him, I was reading a Newsweek and casually chewing the pen I kept in my purse.
"Can I have that?" a small clear voice behind me, I craned my neck back and saw a little brown face, red and blue Spiderman hat pulled down over his ears. His hand darted over the seat between us to point, "Your pen, can I?"
"Sure" I answered without thinking, hastily wiping the cap on my coat sleeve and handing it back to him. He slipped it into his pocket and moved into the seat next to me.
"What are you reading?", he asked jovially, "I'm going to the park, I'm Ambrose Sherman"
I looked around for the boys parents but on this chilly day we were the lone riders. I folded my Newsweek and tucked it back in my bag.
It has never been my habit to talk to strange children but the boy seemed determined to make conversation. He held his small hands out and tapped his fingers together one by one, pinkie to thumb and repeating, staring up at me sideways with one eyebrow raised. His expectant expression made me laugh. I had the impression that I was being interviewed for an important position.
"Well I was reading Newsweek, an article about Twitter, are you meeting your friends at the park, Ambrose?"
He suddenly rose solemnly and stepped past me to stare out the window, leaning against my knee for support and clutching his jacket over his heart as the bus lurched along. "All of my friends are dead." he declared. "Every one of them. We were on a field trip to the art museum, the bus caught fire and everyone perished except for me, even my teacher and the bus driver. I can still see them melting when I close my eyes. This is my first time riding on a bus since it happened"
He paused to look at me sadly, his expressive eyebrows a caricature of agony, a single tear made its way down his porcelain baby cheek. "Do you have any gum?"
I handed him the pack of Big Red from my purse. Ambrose pocketed it and sat back down.
I didn't know quite what to say to that, "I'm so sorry that happened, I don't remember reading about it, the whole thing sounds awful" I put my arm around his shoulder, squeezing it gently, "Well that's not going to happen on this bus, you're safe now, sweetie"
He smiled up at me angelically, his velvety brown eyes gleaming "You remind me of my grandma," Ambrose leaned against me, tucking his head under my arm, "She was so good, every Sunday she cooked a big dinner just for me with desserts and everything. She died last year, I tried to save her life with cpr but the doctors said I was too late, do you have a quarter?" I handed him a dollar. He pulled out a gray velcro wallet and deposited the dollar inside, tucking it back into his pants pocket.
"My grandmas last words were "I want you to be the first in our family to go to college" so I have to go to college, I got a scholarship already"
"Wow that's great! I'm sure your grandma would be very proud of you, I'm sure she is proud of you. I think when the people we love leave us, they don't go far, I bet she's watching over you and your family right now"
Ambrose let out a small strangled cry, "I don't have any other family, my grandma was raising me. My mom and dad drowned in a cruise ship accident, they won a vacation from a game show and I was supposed to go but I got chicken pox and couldn't. My grandma was taking care of me and the police came and told us my parents were gone. Now I live in an orphanage, is that hot chocolate?"
I handed him my thermos of mint mochaccino and watched him remove the top to sip gingerly, his eyes widened and he smiled appreciatively, offering me a thumbs up. "Mmmm!" I smiled back, patted his head, and got out a tissue to wipe my eyes.
The bus shrugged to a halt next to the downtown exchange. "Well, this is my stop" said Ambrose morosely before wrapping his thin arms around me. "There there, there there, I'll see you again" I offered, unsure what to do or say, I was moved by the boys sincerity. I tucked a twenty dollar bill into his jacket pocket and smudged his tears across his soft cheeks with my thumbs. "You take care and I'll see you again, I promise"
I stood to watch little Ambrose climbing down the bus steps and onto the curb, turning to wave at me once before stepping onto the number 30 uptown express.
The next Wednesday, Ambrose had forgotten about his parents dying in a cruise ship accident.
He excitedly chattered to me that they'd both been detectives. The police force usually didn't let husband and wife teams work together, Ambrose explained, because their emotions could get in the way. His parents had been murdered by the serial killing cannibal they were tracking.
When I reminded him that he'd told me something different the previous week, Ambrose collapsed inconsolably in a sobbing heap until I admitted my memory had probably failed me. I gave the boy dollars.
I've ridden with Ambrose twenty or more times since that day. If there's a new lonely looking woman on the bus, Ambrose will sit with her and keep her company.
On a good day he will swing at least ten dollars by the time the ride is over, though I'm not sure the boy is in it for the money. If there aren't any new marks on the bus, he sits with me and we talk and I share my mochaccino with him.
I prefer it when there isn't anyone else riding along.