The Invisible Disease

I boarded the bus during rush hour, cramming myself into a sea of people. I squeezed my way to the back and grasped a metal pole, wincing at the sharp pain shooting through my fingers. The old lady had swept in with the rain and squeezed her bitter hands over my joints. I held my ground on rickety knees, hovering over an elderly gentleman while the bus rocked its way down the street. After a few minutes, the gentleman stood and offered me his seat. I politely declined, thanking him, but I didn’t want to take his seat from him; he insisted, assuring me he would be getting off soon. I accepted, and lowered my aching bones into the dark blue seat, trying not to flinch as I chatted amiably with my benefactor. His stop did not arrive for seven blocks.

He waved good-bye as he disembarked, leaving me to speculate on why he offered me his seat; next to his white hair, wrinkled skin and crooked body, I was almost a teenager. Was it simply an act of chivalry or could he see the old lady hovering over me?  Did he see the stiff way I wobbled down the aisle? Did he know I was harbouring an invisible disease?

I watched people come aboard. They piled into the aisle with shopping bags and umbrellas, clinging to the poles; they shuffled past me, petulantly muttering, casting me critical expressions that seemed to say, “Why does that woman have a seat when we deserve it for ourselves.” I deflated under each probing gaze, with a vague awareness of why they looked at me that way. I didn’t appear sick, I wasn’t aged, and I didn’t have a palpable physical ailment; there was no cane, crutches or walker littering the aisle around me.

I scrutinized each person, wondering how many were concealing some infirmity; who else was masking an old lady behind a youthful shell?

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  1. Wren on June 17, 2013 at 7:00 am

    A painfully evocative post, J, well and thoughtfully written. It brought back memories of taking the bus when I lived in Germany, and how thankful I was if I could get a seat instead of standing, clutching the bar or a strap with aching, protesting fingers. And yes, now and then some sweet fellow would offer me his seat. It might have simply been manners–the north Germans are quite formal that way–but it certainly was a relief.

    All that said, I hope you don’t have to take the bus often…

    • J.G. Chayko on September 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks so much Wren, sorry for the late response. I do take the bus quite frequently, but not too far so I can bear the brunt of the old lady’s pain when she arrives.

  2. Tammy Pigott on August 7, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Wow! I’ve read it three times back to back because it feels so real to me. We are strong stubborn people living with invisible pain and challenges everyday. No one quite understands unless they have it. Well said! Cheers to u!

    • J.G. Chayko on September 13, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Thank you. You’re right. We are strong and stubborn, and that makes the invisible disease harder to spot.

  3. anet37 on September 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    It feels odd when people offer me their seats. I can only think that they have relatives with arthritis and can recognize the signs. It has been happening lately.
    It’s a problem when I win the race for a seat – seems fraudulent, but if I fall it could well be the last public transit I would ever be able to take.

  4. J.G. Chayko on September 13, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    I hope, more often than not, that you get a seat and arrive to your destination safely. Be safe and stay well.

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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.