On yesterday's news

A sorry-looking 50-something white woman got onto the bus, carrying a newspaper in one hand and an open can of beer in the other, with a backpack over her shoulder. A few drops of beer slopped out of the can as she walked back, looking for a seat.

She was clearly homeless, with Doc Brown's hair and also his facial expression. She was alone and deep in conversation with herself, and she took a seat across the aisle from me.

She put the newspaper on her lap and sort of read it, but mostly she was marking it with a pen, scribbling furiously. That's what got my attention, because that's what I used to do — take notes on any scrap of paper handy, to remind myself what to write later — before I graduated to the hardback notebook I now carry everywhere.

So I felt almost a kinship with this messed-up looking woman, and wondered, is she a literary bum like me? To find out, of course, I'd need to see what she was writing.

She was one row in front of me and across the aisle, so I could read the paper's headlines, and I squinted and tried to read her writing, but no. She was five feet in the distance, just at the point where my sight gets blurry.

I kept trying to read whatever she was writing, but she sensed the intrusion, and glanced back at me, so I turned and looked out the bus's window. La-de-da, la-de-da.

When I let myself look again, she'd paused for a swallow of beer, but quickly she put the can on the floor and resumed filling just about every quarter-inch of white space on the front page of yesterday's Seattle Times. But what was she writing?

I thought about boldly asking her, but I hate it when people ask what I'm writing in my notebook. It's so intrusive, so none of your business, and anyway, she'd glanced back at me a second time, and she looked mean.

We were approaching my house, so I rang the bell and stood up, then took a few steps across the aisle to stand by the bus's back door. This positioned me directly behind her as the bus slowed, and gave me a closer, better-focused view of the newspaper and whatever she was writing all over it.

It was numbers — long strings of 12- to 20-digit numbers filling all the margins, with occasional triangles and wavy hieroglyphs I sorta/almost recognized as mathematical symbols, like ⨹ and ≈ and such. She added more numbers while the bus's brakes squeaked, numbers and numbers all over the news, with glyphs between the numbers.

When the bus stopped, I stepped off, wondering, is that woman nuts, or is she on the verge of inventing time travel?


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