The bus pushed forward, lurching the man into a jog – down the runway, up the steps, before he fell into the seat in front of me. He threw his bag of groceries at the quiet Asian man in the window seat. The man fumbled with the plastic bags as they crinkled in his lap.
“Hey,” the new passenger said, breathless as he yanked off his overcoat.
The man in the window seat mumbled with an accent. It was like trying to read long, scrawling handwriting. All I know is he asked a lot of questions. I had the feeling they’d been asked before, and he was just repeating them for the sake of conversation.
The Asian man held tight to the grocery bags. The other man – white, dark haired, and slightly out of breath – started pulling pairs of gardening gloves out of his satchel. He tossed them into the small gap between their legs, answering the other man’s questions in a friendly huff. He paused to roll up his sleeves.
I watched the gardening gloves piled between them. Were they volunteers? Were they reselling them for a higher price to pensioners down the road? Who needs that many gardening gloves?
I wanted to know what their relationship was – I had to stop looking at the gloves now sprawling over both of their legs. I hoped they were roommates. As I sit back and think about the scene now, I REALLY hope they were roommates. I hope they left that morning, delegating each other morning tasks.
“You get the gloves and snacks.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’ll be by the back of the bus – the 950 – when you get on. You’ll know then.”
And maybe the Asian man had sat in a nice little alfresco café while the older man carried out the dirty work.
“Do you realise the look I got when I went through the checkout?”
And the Asian man, who didn’t turn to the man beside him as they spoke, was actually trying to shield his accomplice from the smell of coffee beans clinging to his breath. Because he’d done nothing but sip his medium cup of decaff all morning.
When I left the bus I hoped their day consisted of everything I’d though out. I hoped they were getting the elderly to renovate their flower garden under the guise of community service.
Knowing this world, and the unexpected-ness about it, they’re day was far more interesting and narrative-ready than anything I could ever think up.
He held what looked like two woks welded together, like a closed clam. It didn’t strike me as odd until he started playing it. I didn’t even realise he had that giant thing sitting in his lap until the sound bounced around the carriage. Halsey was humming over my ears, but I could hear the reverberations underneath it.
How could I miss that? I’ve gotten to a stupid point of inattention.
There were two boys across from me and they were watching the man play the unnameable instrument. The train was full enough to earn him attention, but it was too late for people to turn their heads. I didn’t look up, but I lowered my own volume and tilted my head.
Of course this is an instrument, I thought. It’s not strange at all – violins look more monstrous, with their intricacies’ and tightly strung wires.
He asked the boys if they wanted to try. They did, I could see it, but it would have clashed with their high-tops. They shook their heads.
I wanted to ask him something. What was the instrument? But there’s always a wall in front of me. I’m not scared of any backlash; I just don’t like people looking at me. When I can avoid scenarios where they do, I’ll sacrifice knowledge and culture for the opportunity.
You’d think after all this time I’d be able to ask questions, especially when I know it’ll bring me something.
There are old buses still circulating in my city. Each is on its last legs, ready to kick the can and explode. Every time I sit in one I remember my primary school excursions to the local swimming pool for lessons. The smell of chlorine still hangs around them now, a phantom scent from a sturdy memory.
There was a family in front of me – two young parents and one kid. I seem to feel more comradery with kids than with adults. It’s the closeness in age, and the special thing all people share before they pay their first bill.
The seats on old buses all face forward, like something from the 60’s. There are small windows you can open yourself, and even at my age the freedom is thrilling. The boy in front of me got his mother to pull it open, just enough for him to fit the width of his face.
He pushed his cheeks out the window and called into the wind, his small voice zipping past my window, yet still hanging in the air somewhere near the memory of chlorine.
His parents laughed at him as he cooed into the outside world.
It would be nice to be able to think like that again – with possibility.
I worry I can’t think like a kid anymore. Because I worry too much. Because scared is too real now that I’m older, whereas in his shoes it’s monsters in cupboards and porcelain dolls watching as you walk.
The horror children conjure up is disturbing, but it’s all fun when you’re younger. Now I’m torturing myself with actual fear. The not-so-fun kind.
I want to get back to a place where sticking my head out the window and shouting from the safety of a bus – protected by the authority of metal – is my first thought as I swing myself into my seat.
I have to start taking my chances.