Frankie and his mother board the bus near the start of its run, in the inner ring suburb of Richfield, and so they are already seated when the bus reaches my stop, which is at the point where the bus just enters crosses the city boundary into Minneapolis proper on its morning run into downtown.
Today was different because Frankie was a happy child, an unusual state of affairs for him. After many dozens of mornings watching him and his young mother, I've concluded that Frankie probably lives with one of the conditions commonly identified as being on the austism/asberger's spectrum. My wife, who worked in the public school system, tells me that it's now the standard theory that attention-deficit disorders also are related to this spectrum, so I'm assuming at the very least, Frankie suffers from a very severe case of attention deficit.
On most days, his face wears a constant expression of troubled consternation, as though he lives in perpetual conflict with his own nature. Looking out the window of the bus offers him no more than a few seconds of focus, and neither can he be occupied with any of the books or games that his mother provides him on the bus ride. His squirming is constant, and it is rare that he is at peace for more than a few seconds at a time. He is really not disruptive to other passengers, but neither is his mother ever able to do anything but tend his constant needs. His little forehead is almost always furrowed in emotional discomfort.
His mother is very young—certainly no more than 20 or 21, and perhaps even younger, and it's to her credit that I've never seen her lose her temper with Frankie. She is so young that it's possible the Aladdin backpack she carries with Frankie is not her son's at all, but is an artifact of her own recent childhood.
Today, though, Frankie is for the first time a bit more like other little boys. This morning is the exception that proves the rule. Beneath his parka, he wears a tee-shirt that says "Hey Dude, Your Girlfriend Keeps Checking Me Out," Frankie sits on his mother's lap facing backwards toward me; I'm two rows behind them. When Frankie catches my eye, he begins to play the familiar hide-and-seek game that's common to most kids. He moves his head behind his mother, blocking his view of me, then pops his head back to see me once again. As soon as my eyes shift back to meet his again, he breaks into a quietly delighted smile. It pleases him enormously to see our shared recognition of one another.
The game goes on for nearly 15 minutes—a period of focus virtually unheard of for Frankie. When Frankie and his mother get up to leave the bus at the Lake St. connection, she glances back and smiles at me. It pleases her to see Frankie occasionally behave like a typical child; it may give her hope for his future. Frankie, too, smiles at me over his Mom's shoulder as they leave the bus, and I wonder if he will develop the skill to remember these occasional calm moments at those frequent times when his awareness again begins to vibrate out of control.