Bee on The Bus

Bee on The Bus
Paris is a great deal less buggy than American cities. Mosquito bites are not a problem here. You don’t see window screens here or rows of bug sprays on the shelves of drugstores—which, I confess, is a rather dim thing of me to say because there are no drugstores here, not as Americans know them. But you know what I mean. If Parisians needed bug spray, it would be here—of course, whether it would be in the pharmacie or the parapharmacie is a mystery and way out of my depth. Ditto the screens, somewhere. Flies, of course don’t count in the spray and screen departments. They’re air-borne rats and inevitable, and alone in the company of cockroaches and the eternal redwoods will survive any disaster of nature or any burning-up of the world that man can devise. They are as ignorable as a cigarette butt in the street or catching a cold in winter: they come, they go, who cares, repeat. There are bugs, of course. A ladybug seems to have moved in with me, at least I think that’s what it is, though it looks plumper and maybe a little hairier than the ones I’m used to. So seeing a bee is no reason to whip out a phone and dial 15 or 17 or even pay much attention, assuming the bee is in a good temper. And certainly this one seems to be, if not actually a little sluggish. She’s climbing up the window next to me—I’m sitting on the left side of the bus—and doing a hell of a lousy job of it. She hustles up the glass, slides down, wanders slowly along the ledge at the bottom of the window, starts climbing again. The woman sitting behind me has noticed the bee, though she cannot tell at first what it is. I tell her C’est une abeille, and we both watch. I suggest it’s no less empty than watching television. She agrees and sits down next to me to get a better view. But the bee is not doing well. She gets less and less far up the window each time she starts to climb again, then goes slip-sliding down more quickly than she went up, takes longer to start up, gets still less far. Above the fixed window, a vent is open, a narrow glass strip about eight centimetres wide and, of course, tilted in. This makes sense, provided any air is actually getting into the bus, but this is moot and beyond the bee’s ken or instincts. The air is not getting in, so the bee has no air-draft to give her, possibly, a sense of direction. Maybe a helping hand? With the back of my fingers, I give her a little boost. At first, all’s well, and up she goes toward the vent, then flares away from the glass, agitated or merely bewildered that the hand of God has just goosed her. The woman next to me returns to her original seat behind me on the aisle. The bee calms down, takes a deep breath (I think), starts climbing again. I ask the woman if she has a little piece of paper or cardboard. Bless le sac à main de la parisienne. Of course she has, and digs through her purse to present me with two pieces of paper of different weights and a piece of cardboard that used to belong to something, who knows what. I could ask her if she has a Stillson wrench or a copy of À la Recherche du temps perdu in there, but I’m afraid she would, and both are much too heavy for me. I settle on the scrap of cardboard. With a slight crease, perpendicular to the leading edge, and tilted against the window at about a 45° angle, the cardboard makes a convincing enough scoop and gives the bee, maybe, a sense of being in a nice comfy place, like a hive. So oopsie-daisy and easy does it, up we go, slowly toward the top and slightly to the left side of the fixed window where the escape route is most plausible or at least nearest. And, yes, we’re making progress, sliding up the window and the bee crawls a little ahead of the cardboard scoop and veers.. to the right, away from the exit. Mamzelle Bee, I tell her, you are a twit. She doesn’t get it. I try it French. Mademoiselle de l’abeille, tu es vraiment crétine. No luck with that, and I’m running out of languages. So I just keep my mouth shut and after she winds up back on the ledge at the bottom of the window and starts on up again, I apply the cardboard. Three more times. The same results. I have been outsmarted or at least outlasted by a beat-up bee. She may be punchy by now, but she’s more determined than I. I give up. The woman, who has figured it’s safe to move back next to me, and I talk about other things. Well, we spend some time agreeing that the bee is probably sick, dying maybe, and not really uncooperative, but of course also bee-brained, which is not her fault. (One wonders if one really needed to have the benefits of an Ivy League education to be able to engage in a conversation like this one. Or even kindergarten.) Otherwise, or afterwards, our conversation is pleasant enough, a chance talk between two strangers, admittedly a man and a woman of about the same age, but without much focus. What’s there to say? And besides, I know I still have half my mind on the bee, but last I looked she was just lollygagging on the window-ledge, ready to give up the ghost or whatever it is bees give up when they cash in their chips. Their chips? The woman, going by her look as she talks to me, may be thinking the same things.

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