Del is an active eavesdropper. That’s not to say she kneels at keyholes or holds glasses up to walls (although she did that once, in a Chicago hotel with her husband, to try to decipher what the couple next door were yelling about, and she was impressed with how well the device worked).
No, Del hasn’t ever even lingered outside a door, before entering a room or after leaving, to get a clue about what the inhabitants think of her. Her eavesdropping is disinterested. It’s the opposite of egotistical. It’s fly-on-the-wall reception, and she engages in it most days.
She isn’t comfortable when she’s in an automobile. Del doesn’t like to drive or ride in a car, and she’d rather not use taxis or Ubers or Lyfts. She sometimes wonders if her aversion is about being strapped in – after all, she dislikes air travel too – but she suspects instead that she just doesn’t want to be that participatory or social, when she is moving. She can do without the work of driving or of being companionable.
Whatever the case, she doesn’t own a car or miss one. She avoids getting in the vehicles of others too. So she often rides AC Transit buses, SF Muni cars, BART trains. She walks a lot, and because she always lives in a neighborhood where she can walk, she walks among others. Whenever Del is out, she’s with many strangers. She’s forever overhearing others’ talk.
She finds most of what she hears interesting. There’s so much more than can fit in a car. She listens to school kids near her on buses, to office workers complaining on trains, to friends chatting on the streets. Sometimes she has the experience of co-hearing, with a stranger, the conversation of a party neither knows, and sharing a moment of eye-connecting, smiling mutual appreciation for the show.
For last week’s eavesdrop, Del was alone. It was a lovely Thursday afternoon, and she was walking south on College, twenty minutes away from home and about five away from her destination, when she caught up with three pedestrians at the Claremont traffic light.
She hadn’t noticed them when walking past the Safeway plaza. She edged to their right and a few inches ahead of them near the curb, and together they waited for the four-way signal to step through its process.
The individual closest to Del spoke to her companions. “I’m in a transitionary period right now,” she announced. Del cast her peripheral vision leftward and caught the impression of three adults – female, male, female as they extended sideways. They seemed to be forty-somethings, white, a little chubby. The far female had a toddler-occupied stroller ahead of her. The woman closest to Del continued. “It’s been going on six months, it’s crazy sometimes, but I have to say, I’m enjoying it.”
Then the man spoke. “That’s great. You know, a lot of my friends say ‘As soon as the dust settles, I’ll get on with my life.’ They don’t seem to realize: the dust settling is their life.”
Del smiled. The voices were without regional accent: pure northern Californian. At that moment, the light turned WALK for all of them. She glanced left and back as everyone began to cross. The woman closest had lank blonde hair. The stroller-pusher was a brunette and so was the toddler. The man had dark barbered hair and wore baggy plaid shorts. He met Del’s eyes and they nodded grins at one another.
It was just a brief precious moment of agreement. Of shared life.