Buddy and I are waiting for a bus. Hours ahead await us on the trip, though we go to different destinations. I guess proximity is the reason he starts to talk to me, there being nobody else close.
This conversation is edited, though mostly for continuity.
Buddy : Gotta great day.
Me: Yes. (and it is – the weather is some grand)
Buddy: I’ve come half way across Canada, and still have to take the boat to Newfoundland. (this means another 8 hours on the bus for him, and 9 hours on the ferry)
Me: Hope you can sleep on the boat.
Buddy: And then another twelve hours hitching across the province.
Me: You sure have me beat. (I have 7 hours ahead of me, half by train)
Buddy: I don’t know what will happen. My friend says the church will help people.
Me: You’re not going home?
Buddy; Nope – all dead.
Me: That’s tough.
Buddy: That’s my Mom there. (he points to one of his bags) Got her ashes to bury.
Me: You have a sad time.
Buddy: Found her at the end of the driveway.
Buddy: In the urn. My girlfriend threw all my stuff out. That’s where it rolled.
Me: All your things?
Buddy: I had to store my stuff. Just money left for the bus and the ferry.
Me: I gotta say that sounds cold.
Buddy: She’s keeping my last disability cheque.
Buddy $1,700. Says I owe her.
Me: Do you?
Buddy: I guess. Anyway, there’s no going back there.
Me: That’s what it sounds like.
(At this point the bus driver arrives, asking what luggage is to go under the bus)
Buddy: Not that one. (he points to the one with the ashes) That comes with me.
It was clear weather (easier to choose when one can take the time), and I was waiting for the bus a good hour before departure. I wait outside so I can walk around. There are always a few others who do this, and one fellow approached to ask if I would watch his luggage for a few minutes. I agreed, and said perhaps he could do the same for me. “Sure,” he said. “We gotta look out for each other.” I took that as some Seasonal good will.
While I pondered in the sunshine (the last sunshine, it turns out, that I was to see for four days), I heard a sound that I interpreted as either a roaring bus engine or a plane flying overhead. When neither was revealed, I went looking. On the far side of the bus station is the large parking lot of a large grocery store. In one corner of the parking lot was a forest of cut and bundled Christmas trees. One of the tree vendors was removing the bindings of the trees. He then placed the cut base of the tree on a circular metal platform. He turned on an engine (the sound I had heard), held the tree, and the metal base shook violently. It shook so much that it shook all the loose needles off the tree. The fellow then removed the shaken tree, stood it aside, and did another one. Tools for everything.
As I was watching this performance, an elderly gentleman approached me. Perhaps because I was immersed in a woodland of felled trees, his clothing reminded me of someone from the back woods. His work boots were unlaced, his heavy coat was well worn, and his face was both creased and had the stubble of three days growth. He had a guitar of similar vintage slung over his back.
“Nice day,” said he.
“I’m a Busker,” said he. “I’ll give you a Christmas carol for two bucks. I don’t have enough for smokes.”
“That’s OK,” said I. “I’ll gladly give you two dollars.”
“No – I’m going to sing for it.”
I could not judge if his voice was more rough than the guitar. The guitar was out of tune. Some strings were loose. ‘Hollow’ and ‘twang’ come to mind. I got a hoarse rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. He included three verses.
Then he took my two dollars and wended his way to the large grocery store.
~~ Bernardino Luini – Nursing Madonna
Sometimes, when you read a novel, you come across a described incident you know just has to be true, because even the most inventive author could not make it up.
I will now describe an encounter I had on a five hour bus trip one weekend. It was a fairly full bus. I assumed my tenure of being able to sit by myself would not last the whole time.
In this I proved correct.
At a ten minutes stop, which allowed me to get off and stretch my legs, I returned to find a fellow in the seat beside me.
Early twenties, a tall, thin, white male with a head of blond dreadlocks. He was also dressed totally in white, and expressed surprise my seat was taken (though I had left my knapsack upon it).
Three minutes after the bus leaves, even before we are out of town and on the highway, he asks:
“Are you a Christian?”
This – generally – is not a positive ice-breaker.
I replied ‘more-or-less’, which set him aback.
Asking me what I meant, I said that many people classing themselves as Christians do not follow the teachings of Christ as I understand them, so one man’s Christian can be another man’s Antichrist.
He – surprisingly – agreed.
I confess to being monosyllabic in my responses to his religious-oriented questions, which he spread out over the next hour. He might have had an evangelical intent, but he was not insistent. He did, during his disjointed discourse, relate that he was an ‘art student’. He had some of his drawings in his backpack – might I want to see them?
He expressed no displeasure.
He did ask some other routine questions among his religious comments.
Finding I was a writer he (of course) relayed a dream which would “…make a great story or book.” He planned to write it some day.
He asked after my books. I expected some unwanted enthusiasm when I mentioned The Elephant Talks To God. However, after ascertaining they were ‘short stories’ and that the title was ‘To God’ and not ‘With God’ (which I now ponder might have been a more accurate title) he did not pursue the point, other than to find out if he could purchase the book.
I assured him that he could, over the internet and on Kindle. He did not know what Kindle was.
While sitting beside me he had discussions (I interpreted) with God of his own. He did engage in heated (though muted) conversations with no one visibly present. Indeed, upon occasion, he seemed surprised at some of the comments he ‘heard’.
It was in the midst of this type of behaviour, and related to nothing I said, that he turned to me to relate this brief tale. A tale no author can make up.
He described how once he was staying with his girlfriend in Montreal. An apartment he bet he could still find if given the time.
One afternoon, God instructed him to draw a picture of Christ upon a wall. The only pigment he had was his girlfriend’s nail polish. And, upon the wall (guided, you must accept, by God’s hand) he drew The Christ with the head of Alvin-the-Chipmunk. And wearing an Alvin-the-Chipmunk red tunic, which was often (he said) the colour of the clothes that medieval painters gave Christ.
About ten minutes before we came into the stop where we would part company, he started to engage two ladies across the aisle in conversation.
He used much the same patter (though no Christian talk) that he had used with me. It turned out they were interested in seeing his drawings. He began to unroll a tight wad of papers (about the length of a roll of paper towels), ready to reach them across the aisle.
They were of nude women.
Not poorly done, neither.
There are all sorts and conditions of people who take the bus (myself included). A few years ago I made particular note of the two talkative folk who sat in front of me, one on either side of the aisle.
Directly in front was a handsome young man in his twenties. He had, that morning, just been released from penitentiary. He was on his way home. Across the aisle from him was a grizzled and bearded man in his mid-life who had never taken a bus ride before.
They talked. I listened.
The convicted felon (a cheerful and polite fellow) had, with a partner, robbed a grocery store. Stole the safe. Got a lot of money (thousands in the double digits).
They got away with it.
However, some days later, his partner got a case of the ‘guilts’ and turned himself in.
And told what had happened.
His buddy, unplanned and unwanted, soon followed. Fourteen months.
The bearded fellow – never on the bus – had a host of motorcycles and vans, and travelled in them. He took a header when he hit an empty pop bottle. He was a hippy from way back, and more or less continues to this day. Even the bus driver recognized the van he described, famous for its art work.
The former inmate revealed:
how to make ‘moonshine’ from unimaginable ingredients;
how to make money from ‘nicotene patches’ (by cutting them into strips and selling the contents);
how cigarettes behind bars cost $15 each.
Oh – yes – he also lost his girlfriend because of his actions. “A BIG mistake,” he said.
I gotta admit, all this plus the beautiful scenery wiled away the time.
Dusk had already fallen as I stepped from a bus. I was intent about making a close connection to another bus. Haste, in this case, not making waste.
It was an articulated bus – some refer to them as accordion buses – segmented in the middle with three exit doors. They actually do bend in the middle and hold more passengers. I left the bus by the front door and was walking quickly along its length. I was just passing the middle door when, from the last door, two young men (I don’t think they were teenagers) tumbled and shuffled out of the third door onto the sidewalk. They were a few steps in front of me.
One of them was yelling and shoving and swinging at the other.
“Do you want me?”
“Were you looking at me?”
“What is it with you?”
These were the type of questions from the aggressor. He was dressed decently and had a cap. The other fellow (they looked the same age) had a bag over his shoulder and headphones on his head. He was more decently dressed and wore glasses. I took him as a university student. As could have been the other chap.
It appeared something had happened on the bus, though there certainly had been no altercation there. The aggressor was shoving the other one across the sidewalk to the grass verge. His headphones were knocked off and he had trouble holding to his briefcase. The aggressor seemed to just repeat variants of what he was saying. Angry questions.
I was in a hurry. I also did not want to get in the middle of a fight. The police tell us to steer clear and to contact authorities. City fistfights can quickly turn to weapons. I was aware of all this but … I was thinking, well, if that were an elderly person being hit, or a child, or a female, I would have felt obligated to do something. Intervene verbally, at least. Make some commotion to perhaps diffuse the situation. If it was a person being struck who was beyond self-defence, I would have intervened with the supposition that someone else would come to assist. Such thoughts jumbled through my head.
The fellow with the briefcase was on the grass verge, and down he went. He lost his grip on the briefcase. I don’t know if he was struck with such force to make this happen, or if he slipped on the grass, or if he slipped attempting to get out of the way. The aggressor was standing over him and yelling, but he did not (as they say around here) ‘take his boots to him”. The fellow on the ground said: “Corbin, I don’t want to fight with you.”
All this, of course, took place in less than twenty seconds. I had slowed my stride and I was watching, but I had not stopped. That they knew each other (as they say around here) “changed the water on the beans”. In retrospect, I realise I had noticed an element of ritual”about this event. The aggressor had not gone for a blow to the face, and did not take undue advantage now. However, he was still furious.
“You earned it.” He was sputtering. “You deserve it.”
The fellow on the grass scrambled after his briefcase and his headphones. As he got to his feet the other fellow shoved him again. He skittered, but retained his footing and dashed out into the street. The aggressor started to give pursui, but some traffic slowed him just a bit. The other fellow ran along the sidewalk on the other side, then started to walk more normally. The aggressor did not cross the road.
I did get my bus.
All sorts and conditions of people take the bus (myself included) . On this particular trip of some years ago I took note of the two talkative folk who sat in front of me. One was on oe side of the aisle, the other was on the other.
Directly in front was a handsome young man in his twenties who had, that morning, just been released from penitentiary. He was on his way home. Across the aisle from him was a grizzled and bearded man in his mid-life. He had never taken a bus ride before.
They talked. I listened.
The convicted felon (a cheerful and polite fellow) had, with a partner, robbed a grocery store. Stole the safe. Got a lot of money (thousands in the double digits). They got away with it. However, some days later, his partner got a case of the ‘guilts’ and turned himself in. And told what had happened. And his buddy, unplanned and unwanted, soon followed. Fourteen months.
The bearded fellow, never on the bus, had a host of motorcycles and vans and such, and travelled in them. he took a header when he hit an empty pop bottle. He was a hippy from way back and more or less continues to this day. Even the bus driver recognized the van he described, famous for its art work.
The former inmate revealed how to make ‘moonshine’ from unimaginable ingredients; how to make money from ‘nicotine patches’ by cutting them into strips and selling the contents; and that cigarettes behind bars cost $15 each. Oh – yes – he also lost his girlfriend because of his actions. “A BIG mistake,” he said.
I gotta admit, all this, plus the beautiful scenery, whiled away the time.