Three Kinds of People on the Crosstown Bus
One shouldn’t associate with these people, and one most often doesn’t.
Illustrations by Vikki Chu
ometimes I don’t make it out of the house. When I tell people this in the way of conversation, in the way human people can sometimes spill onto each other in broad daylight, they try hard to change the subject.
When I am in the house I watch television. I almost never do anything but watch television in the house. I do sleep, of course, and shower. I have a great shower in my house and if I’m not watching the television then that’s where you’ll find me. Sometimes I eat, yes, usually twice a day, something that stands for breakfast around noontime, perhaps boiled eggs and toast, and then again in the evening, which is usually catch as catch can. Maybe I open some soup or I order takeout and have it delivered. It never gets in the way of the television, though. I scan the channels from 2 to 80 and back again, whether I’m eating or not. I spend five or so seconds on each station. What’s on television isn’t important to me. That I am looking for something else is what matters. I am a seeker.
What I have never sought is a job watching television. I’ve also never sought fame or fortune, acceptable living conditions or Trina, but I’m not ready to think about Trina right now. Trina has her place, and it isn’t right here and now.
Trina says she only recently got a television herself, that for years she went without one. I have no idea how she spent time or what her life was like.
This is one reason I’m not ready to think about her.
Sometimes I am forced to leave the house, and it’s always a tragedy when this happens. Sometimes I am compelled to show up at a certain place at a certain time and perform certain tasks for several hours at a time, and after such I take the most direct route back to the house and television.
I have to take a bus to get to the certain place at the certain time. What happens is I rouse myself with great difficulty, shower, shave, eat something regrettable, dress and vacate the house. I do all of this in 15 minutes. I know other people need an hour or so to do this, which is something I’ve never understood.
The buses in this city make a horrible noise when they stop. Sometimes my head comes off my shoulders when I hear it. I have to cover my ears with both hands to keep this from happening, and people look at me when I do this. I can’t tell what they might think.
The people at the bus stop are almost always wrong. You never see these kinds of people on television, though as I think this I realise it’s wrong. You do see these kinds of people on television, but I always choose not to watch them. These people are none of my business. One shouldn’t associate with these people, and one most often doesn’t.
Mostly it’s no-accounts and old ladies that ride the bus in this city. Most are fat and they are usually nice people, these fat ones, though that is not always the case, either. Sometimes when I start a thought I’ll think it correct only to realise halfway through that it isn’t. So, ultimately, I can’t be sure of something until I’ve thought it through for a while. The trouble is one doesn’t always have the time to think things through. This is what happened with Trina as a case in point.
Some of them, yes, the fat ones, they are nice people, except for the ones who aren’t, but who cares in the end, really. I’m not saying the fat ones on the bus are important to me, but one cannot pretend the fat ones aren’t there. They take up too much space for that. Some of them are colleagues, I think, so there’s that as well. I can’t say for sure as I don’t ever speak to my colleagues, except for Trina, starting with the time I said after you at the coffee pot. But I do know that most of the colleagues are overweight like this. I see them waddling around the office, eating food and discussing their responsibilities.
On the bus most wear their Sunday best and they fan themselves with church programs. These no-accounts sweat a lot on account of the bus not having air conditioning and also because the fat sweat too much all the time regardless.
The fat in the office also sweat too much. I see them mopping brows, replenishing fluids and passing out.
Trina is likewise fat and I suppose now is the time to mention her.
At the coffee pot she uses a lot of cream and almost always takes a doughnut back to her cubicle. I never see her eating the doughnut, though one assumes that’s what she does with them.
Trina doesn’t mind being fat, I don’t think. Sometimes you can tell that sort of thing about people, by the way they walk around the world, how they carry themselves, what they wear, how they feed, covering their mouth as they chew, as if saying I don’t normally do this, but I can’t help it, I’m sorry.
Trina walks around like everyone else, carries herself erect and properly, with a certain elegance, wears clothes that befit her architecture and all the rest.
What happened was, at the end of the day, hours after I’d said after you, she came up to my cubicle and asked me what I was doing after work. I’d been working for this same firm for seven years and no one had asked me what I was doing afterward. It felt like I was being interrogated, that I was suspected of some criminal misdoing. I asked her what she meant.
At this point I was hoping the fire alarm would ring. Sometimes the fire alarm rings and everyone has to evacuate the building.
This is when she said I am taking you to dinner. Apparently, I didn’t have a choice. I could’ve said I’d already eaten, which wasn’t true, but she was in no position to know otherwise. This is how I found myself collecting my things and walking out the door with Trina, on our way to dinner.
I’ve forgotten what was for dinner or if it was enjoyable. I rarely enjoy eating at a restaurant, there are always too many people about and something always goes wrong and then you are left to pay for others’ mistakes. Also, I was too busy trying to think of things to say, questions I should ask. Trina seemed functional enough, she laughed some, smiled some, asked me questions about work, about home, about what I like to do, about how I grew up. I think I answered most of the questions honestly, except for the ones that were none of her business. She didn’t need to know about the aunt and uncle who raised me, what they did for a living, how they made me sell to the kids at school, used me as a lookout on certain errands. I don’t think I’ve told anyone about growing up because it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. People always hope that things are as bad as they sound and in this Trina was no different.
I told her I like to watch television and I like to take showers. Long showers. She said she preferred baths. I told her I only had a stall in my house, but that it was a good one. I told her about the water pressure and the tile and this is when she beckoned the waiter for more wine.
We didn’t have dessert because sometimes fat people don’t like to have dessert when other people are around.
After dinner she took me home. I settled into the left corner of the sofa as she moved about the ground floor. I didn’t know what she was doing but I was happy to be left alone. I was hoping to collect my thoughts, consider what had taken place and what was likely to happen next. I was hoping to find a way out and back home to the television. I could still watch for an hour or two before bed. I can’t fall asleep unless I watch an hour or two of television beforehand and I need to sleep every night for at least ten hours.
The truth is I had no idea what Trina wanted with me, if anything. I hadn’t been in a house other than my own in a long time and wasn’t sure of the protocol. She’d said I should make myself comfortable before she disappeared into the kitchen. I didn’t know what this should entail, if this meant I should remove my jacket or the rest of my clothing. So what I did was I loosened my tie and if pressed about it I would’ve said this is how I get comfortable. I would’ve told her that I am so rarely comfortable that it isn’t usually worth the bother.
What happened next was I think we had sexual intercourse. There was a time there, while watching a horror movie and without fair warning, that she climbed atop me and removed her undergarments. Before that we were side by side on the sofa. There was no contact while we were side by side, though she did remove the throw-pillow barrier I’d constructed. I think she said something like we won’t need this. I think I said something like whatever you say. She’d brought two glasses of wine in from the kitchen earlier and set them down on the coffee table in front of the sofa. This is where she placed the pillow, next to the wine on the coffee table. On screen there was all kinds of carnage, a lunatic mutilating young women indiscriminately.
I couldn’t concentrate on the movie because of what Trina was doing.
After she’d made herself comfortable on my lap, she reached for my belt buckle and undid it. Then she fished me out of my shorts and began manipulating. I tried looking around her to the screen, but it was difficult. She was especially wide on my lap like this. I think the lunatic was hiding in a basement at this point, unbeknownst to the homeowners. I think he was about to lay waste to an entire family.
I didn’t want to look down. I could feel what she was doing, but I didn’t want to see it. I think she said very nice while she was handling me and I said thank you.
This is when she took a breath. I didn’t know what was expected, if I should say something. I had my hands flat against the sofa and my feet firm against the floor. I waited for something to happen, for the fire alarm to go off, for one of us to die of a heart attack. I’d seen it on television, people dying of heart attacks in the middle like this. I figured if it was me Trina could be charged with the crime, but they couldn’t possibly hold me responsible for Trina, given my position relative to hers.
Trina’s eyes were closed and it seemed like she was about to pass out.
I said to her, are you OK?
She said, don’t talk.
I sat still.
She began to move, rocking back and forth, as if I were a hobbyhorse. The sensation was not unpleasant, though at one point my thighs began to burn. I had my hands around her waist or what I thought was her waist. There was no way to determine if she actually had a waist. Regardless, I figured she needed support and I didn’t want her to fall off. I thought if she were to fall off both of us would be sorry. She kept her head down the whole time, like she was trying to keep track of something. The rocking went on for quite some time. I wanted to look at my watch but I didn’t want to take my hand off her side. The movie was over and another had started. I don’t know what happened to the lunatic or the family he was about to slaughter.
I knew we were finished when she stopped the rocking, slapped me across the face, and started convulsing. This went on for about a minute and then she calmed herself and her breathing became regular. She hung her head and for a second or two I thought she had died, that I was going to have to explain myself to the authorities after all, tell them that we were coworkers, tell them about the coffee pot, the dinner, the pillow barrier I’d constructed. This is when she looked up at. She looked broken, done in.
I said, are you OK?
She said, we’re going to have to do that again.
I said, are you sure?
She said, I am.
here is a neighbour who is always outside the building and always unavoidable when I am on my way to the certain place, in the godless morning.
I don’t know what he does or how he lives. He wears the appropriate clothes for the weather, but there is something wrong with him. He calls me Boss.
I never introduced myself as Boss and he has never expressed a desire to be my subordinate. What I call him is Hey There. Hey There doesn’t resemble anyone at the certain place so he’s probably not confusing me with a superior. I am no one’s superior. At the certain place my responsibilities are menial. There is no one beneath me there.
I am always beneath Trina because this is how she likes it.
Trina has never met Hey There and when I referenced him once in conversation she had no idea who I was talking about. What this means is I don’t think Hey There is a colleague.
This morning Hey There was outside the building and said something like some weather we’re having, and I said something like tell me about it.
Trina is the same way. The first thing she’ll say in the morning concerns the weather and it’s my job to agree with her. People always need confirmation, assurance. In truth, I don’t know what people take or what they need.
Trina takes me out of my pants whenever she pleases but I doubt she actually needs to do so. I don’t think anyone’s life depends on it.
The weather is always like the weather here and everyone knows it.
Still, people are like this with each other. They are is it cold outside or is it me? Is it cold enough for you or is it me?
I never ask people questions because I don’t expect them to have answers. It was the same way with my aunt and uncle. I never asked them how I was supposed to sell to the kids at school, but I think I remember them telling me how to do it, so I’m not sure if this proves anything. I think my uncle sat me down once and told me what to do and where to do it, and what not to do, what to say if any of the teachers or principals caught me. I was instructed to say nothing and hope for leniency.
I think my saying after you was mistaken for gallantry and this is why what’s happening with Trina is happening. The truth is I don’t like to have anyone watch me pour coffee into a mug as I can never do it properly. I am almost always spilling.
When I am alone and in the house and haven’t left it for days and during a particular revolution up and down the channels I can count 20 women fatter than Trina, I tell myself to leave. There is no reason for this to be a reason to leave the house, but sometimes I do anyway. Sometimes, when I am in the house for a few days, Trina will call on the phone to check on me. She wants to know if I am still alive, if I’m sick, what’s wrong. I made the mistake of answering once. I told her, yes, I was still alive and that I was indeed sick. I told her I had the bronchitis and that it was contagious. I told her it felt like I was choking to death and that my chest hurt. I coughed into the phone and then apologised for doing so and then said I had to go lie down. This is when she asked me if I needed anything, maybe chicken soup or orange juice. I told her no, but thank you. I told her I would be in next week, that I’d see her then.
Now I let the phone ring when I know it’s going to be her.
I only have to go to the workplace twice a week and sometimes even then I call in and tell them I can’t make it. Whenever I call in I tell them I have the bronchitis. I tell them it’s chronic. When I am out like this Trina says I miss your face when I make the mistake of picking up the phone. I’d never heard this expression before, missing someone’s face, either in real life or on television. I don’t think it’s a real expression and I don’t think she’s telling the truth about it, either. There’s nothing about my face anyone can miss.
If I can count the 20 women I go outside but then once out of the house I realise I’ve no business being outside like this, subject to people and bitter weather.
It’s the same way on the bus. I try to find a seat against a window, preferably a single, but it’s almost always hopeless. The no-accounts always take up the best seats. These no-accounts are like the ones on the television, except when you are next to them on the bus you can smell the perfume and sweat.
Sometimes it’s plain folks who ride the cross city bus back and forth. They are too fat to get around another way so you can’t blame them. Most of these plain folks wear faded blue jeans held up by brown leather belts looped through all the loops of their faded blue jeans. The good thing about Trina is she never wears jeans. Fat women have no business wearing jeans and Trina understands this. The ones on the bus who don’t wear belts wear suspenders and they are even fatter it seems. I am almost certain some of these people are colleagues.
I almost never talk to the old no-accounts or fat plain folks on the bus. Instead I listen to them talk to each other. I spend about five seconds on each before I start listening to the next person. Here I’m a seeker, too.
When I arrive at work I go straight to my cubicle. Sometimes I try to see if Trina is in her cubicle. Some people go straight for the coffee pot when they arrive so I look over there, too. I only go to the coffee pot when no one’s occupying that space, so I never do it first thing in the morning. I can see them milling about from my cubicle and I can hear them talking sometimes. It’s the same talk I hear on the bus. No one is required to mill about or drink coffee, I don’t think. They do have certain rules in the office, but I don’t think this is one of them.
They have a cubicle for me here and I sit inside of it. They have a desk for me and on top of the desk is a computer. My task is to read things on the computer and make sense of it. I type up reports and send them to certain people. These are the superiors. Once in a while one them comes by to ask a question. Sometimes I have the answer. When I don’t have the answer I say I will have to get back to them on that.
I almost had to get back to them about what happened on the bus once. A no-account slid in next to me and started right away with what he’s afraid of. He didn’t say hello, didn’t introduce himself. He started listing his fears, one after another. He mentioned how he’s afraid of pigeons, afraid of waking up too late, afraid of alarm clocks, spaghetti and so forth. He talked about his mother, how she was the one who taught him how to be afraid like this. Said she was afraid of sour milk, dried leaves, houseplants, pancake batter, postcards, nail clippers, file cabinets. His mother was dead now, said she died five years ago and now it’s her ghost he’s afraid of.
I didn’t recognise this no-account, but he was one of them, one who rides the bus back and forth all the time. He wore no-account clothes and had a no-account smell. Every time we approached a stop I was hoping he’d get off at it, but he didn’t. He kept going on and on about what scared him, about toy poodles and wilted spinach. It was after he mentioned helicopters that he looked over at me and squinted. So I told him about my aunt and uncle, how they had me sell to the kids at school for them, had me go on errands. I told him how I would do it, in the boys’ room, at recess behind the baseball field, after school at the gas station. I told him I never got caught by any of the teachers or the cops and then I told him how my aunt and uncle got killed by a rival one Sunday morning, but that part wasn’t true. I figured he needed to hear something like that, something that might make him feel better, make him count blessings, make him go away.
This no-account, though, he didn’t care about my aunt and uncle. Instead of asking me questions he talked about the weather, how he was afraid of the bitter cold and sunstroke and tornadoes. I told him he was right, that I was afraid of these things, too. I told him sometimes I don’t make it out of the house. I told him sometimes there’s no reason to, that everything I need is there, that I have the television and the shower, after all. I don’t think he heard me, though, because he was going on about tidal waves and undertows. This is when I got off the bus. I was already one stop past where I normally get off and would have to walk all the way back.
That was the only conversation I’ve had with someone on the bus. I started to tell Trina about it once, but she was about to change the rhythm of her motion so I decided not to. She doesn’t like it when I talk in the middle like that. She says let me do my business and we can talk later. But we never do, we never talk about anything, which is probably best.
So I never tell her about every other kind of people who ride the crosstown bus back and forth here. There are skinnies, too, who don’t look like either the no-accounts or the plain folks. I never tell Trina about the skinnies because she doesn’t want to hear about them.
I do know that none of the skinnies are colleagues.
I don’t know how much longer this business will go on with Trina, but I think it’s out of my hands.
Unless I don’t make it out of the house, which is what I’m considering. I haven’t been out of the house in two weeks, I think. My superiors at work haven’t been by my cubicle to ask questions, I haven’t run into Hey There on the way to the bus, I haven’t heard it screeching, taking my head off. Hey There might be dead for all I know. I suppose I could go look out the window to find him, to see if he’s out there in the weather, but it wouldn’t matter.
The first thing I do in the morning is go over to the television and turn it on. Later I hear the phone ring and I know it’s her. I imagine she wants to know when I will be back at work, when she can take me to dinner, when she can fish me out of my pants again. This is the worst, when it happens this way, when I am in the middle of a program like this.
Otherwise, she calls when I’m in the shower. This I don’t mind. I can’t hear the phone ring over the shower spray and the blare from the television. I make sure to turn the volume up loud so I can hear it from the stall. It’s perfect.