Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bus Encounters

Was groping for the topic of my next short story which is due in a couple of weeks. At first, I thought that perhaps I would adapt an old myth but it's hard to adapt things like: "once there was a maiden and the devil wanted to take her but she was super clean so the dad forbade her to wash but her tears bathed her and then the dad chopped off her hands..."  (Src.)

But, then, FB reminded me of this past encounter via memories:

Grumpy bus driver versus elderly proper Englishman -- WHO WILL WIN?
Englishman: *pushes stop button*
Bus Driver: *blatantly ignores stop*
Englishman: *standing up and going to the front* Sir! I say! Sir! I DID push the 'request stop button'!
Bus Driver: *keeps going without comment*
Englishman: SIR!!!
Bus Driver: *stops the bus and just -looks- at the Englishman*
Englishman: Oh I say! Thank you, sir. Have a good day, sir. *exits bus*

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So I decided to write on bus encounters, since public transit is a weird set of weird/scary/beautiful vignettes, and below is the start. The bit with the woman making out with her reflection is something drawn from experience albeit with details modified and some stuff left out.

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Basil was having a troublesome day. Firstly, his car wouldn’t start. Secondly, his front tooth had cracked and fallen out. Thirdly, he had an important interview. Cursing, he flipped open his phone to take a look at the bus times. One was a convenient 10 minutes away - enough time to book it over, lanky limbs splaying with unaccustomed gait, and breath coming out in chuffs. He slowed down about half a block away from the stop, pretending to the world that he was not wholly desperate, and casually took his place in the queue. The woman in front of him caught his eye, dressed in subdued work hues but with a brightly colored necklace and scarf to add some pop. She gave him a friendly smile and he grinned back in response, watching her the muscles on her face stiffen to hold her smile as the macabre interior of his own mouth gaped open. Well, shit. The bus pulled up just then, giving him cover to glance away and fumble for his bus pass. Thank goodness he still had it. Or did he...? Yes, there it was.

He got on, showed his pass, and looked around for a seat. A seat would be nice. This bus would take 45 minutes. Ah, ok, a pretty full bus but one seat left - next to a lady who seemed like she wouldn’t be weird. He sat down, gratefully, and sat back into his chair, absentmindedly tonguing the place where his tooth should have been. A few stops later and an old granny gets on the bus. Her eyes swing around like flaming torches, seeking a seat or someone who would give up theirs. Basil hunched down and pretended to be very focused on this interesting article he was reading about the strength of the dollar. The granny slowly went and stood in the middle aisle of the bus and looked as piteous as possible. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.

“Oh, thank you, dear!” Phew. Someone else had given up in the game of granny-chicken. Relieved, he looked past his seatmate and out the window.  36 minutes to go. At the next stop, a large woman with long dark hair got onto the bus and stood holding a pole by the window. She was humming to herself “love me like you do, lu-lu-luve me like you do.” She started to sing along. Her voice started to rise in volume until she was almost sobbing the song out and everyone watched intently as this woman locked gaze with her reflection and then started making out with it. Typical morning commute. A few stops later, the woman got off.

Next, a couple got on, in the middle of a fight. The guy had cheated on the girl with a mutual and she was not going to let a public audience get in the way of a good tongue-thrashing. But the guy was not going to take it lying down. It was all HER fault for being so cold and unavailable. She screeched at him, he yelled at her, and the rest of the bus was very uncomfortable caught between the two until the guy finally decided he couldn’t be in her presence and strode to the back of the bus saying “we’re through, you mother-fucking bitch!”  Everyone let out a breath of relief as the girl took out her phone, didn’t follow the guy, and began angry-cry texting someone. Basil did not feel sympathy for her. Maybe now for some peace and quiet?

“Excuse me, I’m getting off at the next stop. Could I squeeze by you?” Basil retracted his legs as far as they would go and his seatmate brushed past. Now for a strategic choice: did he inch in and take the seat by the window? He wouldn’t feel the pressure, then, to get up should some other elderly person climb aboard the bus. But then there’s a trade-off: take that seat and you could get hemmed in by someone who is smelly and takes up more than their share of space. Basil slid over and watched to see if his gamble had paid off.

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