(Two people sit at the back of a night bus making its way towards Finsbury Park. It is two in the morning. He has a French accent. Hers is American. His arm is around her shoulders.)
Woman: So it wasn’t a real stroke. Or it wasn’t a crippling stroke. Do you know what a stroke is?
Woman: I don’t know how to say it in French.
Woman: Un mal de…
Man: Yes, I know what it is.
Woman: Well, it wasn’t a major one but it was still, you know…
Man: It was a stroke.
Woman: And when my dad phoned I could just tell it was trouble. First of all, they never call me past ten at night. They’re both very aware when it comes to different timezones, with me being so far ahead.
Man: France is even further.
Woman: France is what?
Man: In my country we are later. We are one hour forward.
Woman: Well England is, like, five hours later than Baltimore, so I knew something was up. You get that feeling in your throat. And you know when your father comes on the phone — I don’t know if this has ever happened to you — but your father comes on the phone and he sounds like someone else?
Man: You look beautiful.
Man: In this light.
Woman: …and your dad. Sorry?
Man: I was worried that when we got outside the club you wouldn’t be as beautiful as you were inside. Not so. This bus does not have good light, but you are still beautiful.
Man: Your hair.
Woman: That’s sweet. That’s really. So… but… so my Dad. Sorry to go back to this.
Man: No, no, no.
Woman: My dad told me that mom had been making strange noises in the night, moving the sheets, that kind of thing. When he woke up she was having a stroke. Or she had just had it.
Man: We are three stops from my house right now.
Woman: And. And so he got her to the hospital as fast as he could, which was lucky because our car? It’s a wonder anyone can even drive the thing with its back end almost ninety percent rusted off. My dad walks everywhere now because we’ve only been at this new house for six months. He’s all about walking. It used to be biking but then he was like “No, you can only begin to understand a city if you walk its streets.” That kind of thing. So it was just lucky that when he turned the ignition the car actually started. He drove there as fast as he could.
Man: Is she dead?
Woman: No, it was just a small stroke. A petit…
Man: This was your mother who had the stroke?
Man: And your father is black?
Man: And your mother is white?
Woman: Yes. And, you know, her recovery has just been amazing. She did the whole walking on a treadmill, the whole physical therapy thing. Her face after it happened was twisted. It was like the nerve endings had been damaged. But somehow she’s really improved it through exercises and she looks, I’d say, about ninety-five percent as good as she looked before. If you knew her before you might be able to tell, but it’s not like people stare.
Man: Why do they stare?
Woman: No, they don’t stare. She’s recovered.
Man: And are your parents able to hold hands in public?
Woman: Oh, they’re totally affectionate. I’ve been so proud of my dad, how he’s handled it? Out of all my friend’s parents I’d say eighty percent are divorced. So my parents are in the minority. But they’re so in love, so there for each other, kissing at the table, that kind of stuff, which is kind of weird when it’s people that age. But you know what’s really weird? The only lasting effect of the stroke is that my mom will just forget easy words for things around her. Like the water will be running in the sink? And she’ll say, “Turn off the…” And she’ll point at it and sort of shake her finger at it, and I’ll be like, “Mom, do you mean the faucet?” And she’ll say, “Yes, the faucet.” That kind of stuff happens all the time, and I know it’s got something to do with the stroke.
Man: I love your black skin.
Woman: And… sorry?
Man: I love the way it gets darker around your crinkles. Your wrinkles I mean. Around your eyes you are very black.
Man: We are two more stops from my house now. It is up this hill. That’s the park over there I told you about. And that is the store where I do my shopping. It’s owned by Arabs.
Woman: So, I mean, not to keep dwelling on this. I guess what I meant to say is that my mother is Okay. But it just makes you think how precious life is. And how…
Man: Have you heard of a band called The Strokes?
Woman: A what?
Man: A band. They are called The Strokes. Just because you were mentioning strokes one second ago.
Man: They are very popular.
Woman: I don’t even, you know, have a stereo over here.
Man: I have a Sony stereo. The Strokes CD is very good. You will like them. I am going to play two of their songs for you when we get to my place. Number five is very fast. Number one is slower. I think number five is better but it will be interesting to hear what you say. Is that fine?
Man: Do you think that’s fine?
Man: Do you like rock and roll?
Woman: Yeah, I sort of like everything.
Man: Or do you like rap music all the time?