Yellow, less travelled roads
By Courtney Fong
I always wondered what they were all thinking. We were all in the same place, wanting the same thing but our reasons were different. I wondered what those reasons were and tried to deduce my way through my boredom. There was the black pencil skirt, a matching blazer and misplaced runners. I figured she was an office woman who worked in the city and had a long way to walk before she could change into the more professional heels probably hidden in her deceivingly small bag. The un-tucked blue button up over navy slacks and an expression that looked as if the graffitied backpack was dragging him down to the worst parts of hell. High school senior. Looked about ready to hang himself by his crooked tie. And then there was a black mini skirt paired with intentional bed-head who made me squirm self-consciously in my 6-year old jeans and hand-me-down t-shirt. I shook my head before I could hear a voice scold me about presenting myself like a lady. Again.
My eyes stopped roaming what, in most cases, could hardly be called a crowd as the game lost its already bland flavour. I pretended to fiddle with my phone so that I wouldn’t look like a deranged stranger who stared intently at random people. Every day I do this – text gibberish to no one while changing the song before it had a chance to even whisper a lyric.
How is it that everyone else looked like they knew what they were doing? They all knew how to move, how to stand, how to wait. And here I was, awkwardly trying to fit in with a group of strangers I may never see again beyond the next few, long minutes. Nobody else had this much internal struggle over waiting at a bus stop.
I stared at another bus drive by. The driver didn’t even glance in our direction - not that I blamed him. There were only two buses that went through this town. The people around here mostly just caught the one that we were anticipating, not the hulking empty box that just turned an odd corner and went down a mysterious route away from the city. It seemed that not many people take the road less travelled. Sorry, Mr. Frost.
And then something shifted as the high schooler started rifling through his pockets and pushed off the wall. Squinting into the distance I spotted scrolling words and the three glowing numbers. Relief came over the crowd and a movement began. People seemed to creak and moan as they moved from their stationary positions like statues that were given life and were moving for the first time. I eagerly joined the jumbled line and fiddled with the rigidness of my bus pass.
The bus lumbered and sank in front of us, like an exhausted toxic beast letting out a weary sigh from its exhaust pipe. The doors abruptly opened and in a somewhat orderly fashion, we started to file in. The automatic and mindless motion was akin to the one of cows entering the slaughtering house. It was an odd and surprisingly morbid thought that passed through my mind. Was I becoming bitter at the age of 22 already? No. In this day and age, you can never be too young to be bitter. Was that a reference to the Seinfeld rerun I watched last night? Before I fell asleep in front of the computer again? The questions were dismissed as I began to step onto the bus and-
“No more room on the bus. You’re going to have to wait for the next one”
The cruel rasp made my heart feel like it was being sandpapered, more because of the content of the sentence rather than the grainy texture of the voice that declared it. A voice that seemed to be anointed to all bus drivers once they graduated from bus driver school. It, of course, came along with a deep cut scowl, intolerance for youths and the need to arrive too early or too late to all bus stops.
Flushed with frustration, irrational anger and embarrassment, I walked off the bus and tried to unimagine the mocking stares of the commuters going on their merry little way to where ever the hell they needed to go.
The next bus didn’t come for another 45 minutes. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I really couldn’t be late to this stupid business tutorial – the class where I mastered sleeping with my eyes open and had created a doodle masterpiece at the back of my notebook. I checked my phone even though I knew that there was no chance I would be able to make the class on time unless I could grab a ride off someone. For a split second I considered calling home and asking dad but quickly shook it off. I was not in the mood for another lecture on responsibilities and what I was doing with my life or how glorious my brother’s successful career was compared to mine.
I was about to sink to the floor in defeated frustration and begin smacking my head against the pavement. Hurried footfalls and loud panting stopped me as they came closer. I looked behind me to see him frantically waving his left arm out like a mad man. Confused and not really thinking rationally from the shock of not being able to function properly in society, I began raising my arm to wave back. It froze in mid air as the sound of another bus stopped in front of me. Well that would have been mortifying.
A blur of disheveled black hair skidded to a halt in front of me. When the doors opened, his brown eyes nearly rolled to the back of his head as he sighed with relief. He was boarding the bus that no one took. Well, at least, he was trying to. He desperately rummaged through his sticker-riddled bookbag while trying to apologise to the bus driver for probably leaving his ticket at home. Unimpressed and unsympathetic, the bus driver’s stubbly scowl and deadpan eyes all pretty much told me he was about to kick the guy off like the other driver did to me.
Irresponsible. That’s what dad would have labeled him - an irresponsible slacker. My mother would have judged the boy’s odd choice of knee-ripped, olive jeans and his brandless backwards cap. She’d probably dismiss him as a delinquent who contributed nothing to society and wasted his time chasing an unreachable dream.
And then something in me just threw up its hands and said, “Not today. Not again.” I quickly walk behind Mr. Messy Hair and slipped my bus pass in his hand. Feeling the weird disturbance in his quest to stay on the bus, he looked down at the ticket, shot up his eyebrows and turned and smiled at me. Mr. Messy Hair had faint freckles dashed across the bridge of his really, really straight nose. A nose that sat between two ordinary brown eyes made extraordinary with the twinkle of relief and gratitude.
He swiftly dipped the ticket into the machine and took it out, flashing a smug, cheeky grin at the bus driver. He handed it back to me with a simple thank you, the smugness no longer on his lips but rather genuine happiness. The cheekiness was still there though.
I looked on with the bus pass still in hand as he walked straight to the back of the bus and plopped down like one would if they just got home and dumped themselves on the couch after a long hard day.
I didn’t realize I was staring like an idiot before a voice almost identical to the first coughed out, “So are you just going to stand there or are you going to get on the bus?”
I was about to apologize and get off before I looked at my bus pass. It was the ticket that allowed three sections instead of my usual two. Odd. Suddenly, shrill alarm bells in the form of my parent’s voices rang through my mind over and over again. And then they stopped with an impulse that I never thought I would ever feel. I quickly dipped the ticket in the machine, took it out and immediately walked over to the middle of the bus and sat on the left.
This was exhilarating. The unexpected courage and giving in to a weird impulse left me with an adrenaline rush. It was if I just woke up really rejuvenated and was ready to take on everything.
But then the bus started turning that odd corner that would then go on a mysterious route away from the city. Suddenly the courage fizzled out of me and the adrenaline became much more like the unpleasant anticipation one faced when they realized that they were an idiot for ever agreeing to enter the school talent quest because of the peer pressure from her friends just before I went on stage. What the hell was I doing?
I looked out the window and saw that during my internal crisis the bus took more twists and turns and I had already missed at least two stops. When the hell did that happen? The panic began to rise along with my hand to press the stop button.
“You know, I didn’t peg you for the hobo park kind of person.” I tried to register what he just said and figure out how he managed to move to the seat opposite mine without any noise. My mum’s voice screamed ‘SERIAL KILLER’ which was more annoying than frightening. Although that frightened part of my brain was still significant.
Ignoring my silence, he continued. “The next stop is at Hobo Park. You know, the one that is full of bridges where the hobo’s live under like weird trolls?” My forgotten hand immediately fell to my side.
He continued with a swift breath as if he was catching up with an old friend. “It’s not all that bad though. There are some amazing graffiti spots there. I’ve even got a few of my babies on some of the smaller spaces. The cops are usually too busy keeping the ‘residents’ from creating too much disturbance and so me and my mates go there from time to time to skate and spray a bit.” Was he talking to me out of what he felt was obligation because I gave him a free ride? Or was my mum right and he really was a serial killer?
He began to ramble on and my confusion over why he started talking to me began to shift. I became mesmerized by how freely he expressed himself with his hands, his eyes and words as he described the time his best friend twisted her ankle as they tried to break into his own house. I was bewildered by how he seamlessly shifted from one subject to the next. Like when he told me his art took inspiration from the Egyptian culture he saw while backpacking through Africa and Europe in his gap year. That was also the year he learned that he was allergic to eggplants after a food poisoning episode in Scotland. He was unwittingly revealing his life story, a story that seemed so technicolour to my monochrome. I was the dreary Kansas to his spectacular Oz.
If it were anyone else, I would probably be scared shitless about a complete stranger talking to me on an empty bus that was heading in an unknown direction. But he was so at ease with himself to the point where I realized I was no longer scared and I was just…awestruck and calm and incredibly jealous. Because the more I listened and the more I watched him, the more I realized that while there was a mile of difference between us, there were similarities. It was those similarities that got me. Both our Converse shoes were worn and grimy but mine were due to age and routine whereas his were stained with the dust of foreign soil, adventure and independence. Our eyes were near the same shade of umber but I doubted mine would ever witness the beautiful, the ugly, the strange and the unique things that he has. He has been alive for the same amount of years I have but somehow I felt like an infant when I compared how much we have both really lived. I started wishing for a tornado to come sweep this bus away with me in it where it would land and crush my old self so that I could emerge as someone different.
He started asking me questions and I started answering. I started out tell the truth, I really did. I mentioned that I was studying business and commerce at uni. I had been to San Francisco once to visit American relatives. But then I started saying other things. I said that I went on exchange in Paris during high school for 6 months and got lost on the Metro. I told him I started doing amateur night art classes recently and was thinking about getting serious about it. These were things that I have never done or said. Why did I lie? Was it so that he wouldn’t be able to identify me in case he really was a serial killer? Was my life so boring that I had to invent a complete stranger? Or was it because these weren’t real lies?
He started talking about the new apartment that he shared with three other friends as I continued to question my life, my past, my present, my future, my family, my home. Home. Shit. I was supposed to be getting off this bus and trying to find a way back, not make friends with a potential psychopath. Too bad I couldn’t just click my sneakers and chant, “There’s no place like home.” I was pretty sure Dorothy would not have been able to use a spell if she didn’t believe in it.
I had to cut him off as he tried to imitate the noise their broken smoke alarm made. I apologized and told him that I had to get off and go back for something I left at home.
If possible, his smile got even brighter as told me that he was getting off at the next stop anyways. I was unsure whether I felt like it was a cool coincidence or plain creepy. But there was definite relief in there, somewhere.
I decided that a serial killer couldn’t possibly be psychotic enough to create a fake persona and life with such specific detail as his. With that, I took what was still a massive leap of faith in my case, and confessed that I wasn’t use to this area or the buses. I was essentially placing my faith in humanity in his hands and prayed that he would not abuse this information.
He stood after the bus came to a momentary halt and told me to trust him as he walked off the bus. There was little hesitation before I followed his footsteps. I stood next to him and noted that the streets around me were not dirty, sketchy or dark as I imagined they would be. Trendy little boutiques sat next to cozy cafes and other local businesses. It was also broad daylight with a reasonable amount of people trudging around. The relief that came from having someone to trust and to guide me became the feeling of safety and reassurance.
He gently nudged my shoulder with his elbow and took me across the street. He explained that I could take the same number bus home and there was also a bus that could take me straight to uni. He checked his watch and told me that he had to go back to the other side of the road in order to catch a different bus. Disappointment, sadness and fear coated my heart as he thanked me for the last time and crossed the road without looking back. In the short time I was in his company he had become a safety blanket for me. He was a safety blanket that doubled as a magic carpet that opened my eyes and took me to the pyramids and the Stonehenge.
I considered my options. I could take a bus home where I would have to explain all of this to my parents. Or I could take a bus to uni where I probably missed half the lecture but would be able to get home on time so my parents won’t be suspicious of where I’ve been. Or there was option number three. Cross the road and keep going. I shook my head and checked the timetable for the next bus that would take me to uni.
It wasn’t until after the lecture finished and after I signed up for amateur night art classes that I realized that I never got his number or his name. I knew all his favourite languages, his favourite band and his best friend’s dogs name but couldn’t put a name to the face or Facebook. I decided it didn’t matter and that he wasn’t really my magic carpet. He was my Tornado.