Sunny late afternoon, riding the bus home from work. I’m reading my Japanese textbook and murmuring the words. I’m on the aisle and beside me is a woman with a flat American accent talking to another woman in the seat in front of us. Although I’m trying to concentrate on the new grammar using uchi ni [while a certain situation holds], I keep getting distracted by “new job,” “need the hours,” “we’re spoiled because we all have our own bathroom,” “it would be nice to be able to afford Dupont Circle.”

The bus stops. Suddenly my seatmate says brightly, “Shitsureshimasu!” [Excuse me]

I stand up to let her pass and, without thinking, I say, “Hai, dōzo.” [Please go ahead]

And she’s off the bus before I can say anything else.