426 Outbound, Evening Commute
It is finally time.
“Hey, man, what’s up?” William asks, piercingly. So pronounced in tone and precise in enunciation is he that the bus driver hears him perfectly, through the usual din, despite William sitting near the back.
“I’m alright, man. Just on the bus.” Lesley, the nurse who is in her usual conversation on the phone, is startled by the heretofore quiet man speaking so boldly. She momentarily loses her place with her friend, named Leslie.
“Where are you watching the game?” At the burst of noise, a smile is shared between Robert, who works in accounting for some firm, and Elizzabeth, yes with two Z’s. They had been talking, and were not expecting others to talk.
“Work, man, it’s crazy. Like, mad crazy.” The young lady right in front of William shuts off her Nook in a huff, unable to concentrate. She then spends a moment longing for days when she read paper books, when closing a real book in a huff was a far more dramatic experience.
“Listen, my girlfriend does not rule my Thursdays. Wing night is my night.” Minh, who is almost completely deaf, knows something different is happening on the bus, based on the change of body language and facial expressions all around her. She is happy to be able to take part in a social setting usually reserved for all the others.
And on and on William goes. Loud burst of modern speech, a bit of silence, repeat. His captive audience, usually clamorous with cell phone conversations, one or two devices playing music out loud, and generally loud talking among cliques, is silent, is in awe, is frustrated, is shocked. The bus driver does not care, of course. He’s looking at the traffic that is getting him off schedule, and doesn’t really care about that either.
Lesley, distraught that Leslie has to wait for the rest of her story, gets brave. “Excuse me? Can you be quiet?” It is at this point that she realizes William is not holding a phone, nor does he appear to have a headset device.
“Jacques, I’m going to have to talk to you later,” William says, turning toward Lesley. “I’ve just been little consideration.”
“Excuse me?” Lesley says again. Frankly she says that a lot to people who do things she doesn’t like. “You’re being shown little consideration? What about the rest of us?”
William smiles, happy to receive this opening for this moment he’s been planning for some time. “The rest of us? Are you speaking on behalf of the whole bus?” Lesley, unsure of where this is going and nervous about saying “excuse me” a third time, nods her head vigorously.
“Do you think about the whole bus when you use this time to have private conversations, every day? Every day you tell your friend about the previous nine hours of your day. I know her name is Leslie, and I know more about your quotidian life than I know of Charles Darwin’s. And while your selfish monologue is almost criminally boring to share with someone in a private setting, it’s abhorrent within a crowd.”
“What about you, man?” someone else cuts in to save Lesley, a young guy who loves joining fights when the odds are in his favor. “You’re the loud phone talker today.” Various others supportive muted grunts follow, and Young Nook points a finger in William’s general direction.
“I do not have a phone,” William says, with extant normalcy. “I was speaking to myself.”
Now the entire bus is listening, even Minh, but she with her eyes. The bus driver is paying notice to the commotion too, possibly the first time in several years. He almost rear-ends a mini-van but catches himself.
Lesley now has her voice back. “No phone? So you’re insane is what you’re saying.”
William smiles. It’s all happening as he hoped. “Am I? Whether I’m speaking to myself out loud or I’m speaking to someone else on a cell, it’s the same miserable experience for the rest of the folks, right?” He looks at young guy, who doesn’t like his odds any longer and stays still. “It’s not a conversation you’re having to the rest of us–it’s a periodic blast of annoyance and disturbance.” Young Nook points at William again, but in approval now.
“And don’t think I’m only picking on you,” William continues, standing up and gesturing toward Lesley like he’s in a stationary forum rather than on cramped public transportation. “I admire you for standing up to this disruption. Why can’t you do that for others? What about Hip-Hop guy, or loud couple, or the Catty Quartet, or the other cell phone folks? Why can’t you stand up against yourself for the same lack of consideration?”
“Linden Square stop. Transfer to the 429.” The bus driver speaks, having no sense of the dramatic and having lost interest. William moves to get off, but no one else, even those who usually take this stop. They are captivated by what is happening, and a little scared to get off with this someone who speaks to himself without a cell phone. It’s not that they’re afraid of someone who speaks up. They’re afraid of someone speaking up whom they don’t expect to do so.
Moving to the door, he eyes Minh, who gives him the thumbs up. He returns the gesture, and then is gone, disappearing and not ever again being a physical part of any of these lives. For a few days, the story burns, as everyone on that commute will talk at length about this crazy man, talking to himself and disrupting everything and being threatening to their routine. They will not heed the lesson, they will not internalize, nor will they see themselves as the problem. At home, they will share this event with their families. This weekend, they will bring it up at social events. And at one of those events, a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, a young, quiet, friendless teen will overhear the story, will smile, will burn with pride at someone like her, the unnoticed, the ignored, the non-entities who, for a brief time, consumed a whole lot of worlds. It is finally her time.