I have to pee but there is no fucking way I am going to use the toilet in the back of the bus. I would rank it equivalent to sucking a stranger’s dick to raise enough money to buy myself groceries.
A last resort.
Is where all the rest of the world lives? Have I entered a weird dimension? If we are the 99% then this place is how 45% of the 99% travel. The guy with 2 beers in his plastic bag plugged in beside his chips. The dude beside him who fucking stinks. The woman beside him wearing a full face unicorn mask. Why do I only ever see these kinds of people on the bus?
And what on earth am I even doing on a bus?
Because you are a working artist.
Because the $40 milk run or $80 express makes a difference to your monthly budget.
Because you are not as all that as you think.
Because you are the 45% too, even though you have cool style and less obvious addictions.
I pray before I get on. Please let me sit beside a regular human and please let me have the window seat. So far so good.
I see two empty pair in a row near the back. I go to the first one. The seat is stained the color of diarrhea. The pair behind it looks better. I make eye contact with a man sitting behind the clean pair of seats. He squints. His eyes are puffy. He looks drunk. Or spiritual. He may be a shaman.
I decide to go away from the diarrhea seat and closer to the human seat. I sit down and notice he is staring at me. Or at least sneaking a peek exactly when I sneaked a peek. I wrap my travel blanket around myself. I get out my smoothie. I unravel my IPod. I look between the seats and I notice that he is staring at me still.
I am now considering him dangerous. I intuit that he could stab me. There is an intensity radiating off him and my whole body roils with fear. Roils as in boils and lurches and twists, as in my stomach starts digesting food outside of itself.
I know most of this data is happening in my system because I am recognizing him as Other. He has a different skin color than me and my response is reactive and protective.
It’s funny, funny how judgmental my core is. It’s amazing how my impulsive, non-rational mind jumps so quickly to closed. It’s not a thought process. It’s an immediate cellular response.
And it’s not like I don’t have friends that are all different colors of the rainbow. I have lots and I love them and respect them deeply, of course I do. The point is that I registered the difference- I then notice I registered the difference-I then smiled at him to counteract the involuntary racism and now he is staring at me and I am uncomfortable.
But this essay is not about racism; I don’t think it is anyway.
Because of too much media and real life ghost stories I simply have a lot less patience with ‘suspects.’ I am on a bus. It’s nighttime and quite honestly I think we are all thinking it. It’s a greyhound. It’s on the same route. It happened once. That means it could happen again. It could be anybody. Anybody in this bus could be the one. And technically speaking everyone other than me is The Other.
And the time I am referring to, the time where it all went horribly wrong, his own wife didn’t suspect him of undiagnosed mental illness. The boy sitting next to him felt comfortable enough to fall asleep. And then before anyone could hear a warning bell, the man got up and bent over the sleeping boy and sawed his poor head off. Severed his head from his neck. A horror show. It happened. And that’s not all. As people climbed over seats trying to get away as he hacked at the boy’s body it’s said he drank the blood and ripped out the tongue and cut off the ears and when the passengers were out of the bus in safety they barred the doors so he couldn’t get out and he then shook the severed head back and forth at the window. He terrified people further. And when the police finally got him it is said he had saved the tongue and ears in his pocket for later. It is said no one had noticed him to be weird. No one had a clue. The only thing different I noticed from the media reports was that he was Other.
So I feel that history right now. I feel the fear and it weakens me. It makes me base. It makes me closed. I am working out of my reptilian brain. I am concerned for my survival. The images that I have been taught to be wary of throughout my life flare up now and light the sky behind my eyes.
This poor man behind me is getting all my fear. I do not know who he is and already I am assuming the worst. And isn’t that what I always do in other aspects of my life as well. Have fear, expect it to go badly, plan to get my head chopped off. Isn’t that what we all do and in fact, really is it possible that this is the sole reason for all the problems on our planet. Our massive and ridiculous Fear of Other.
I will try something different this time. Even though he is staring at me. Even though my body is screaming No! I begin sending the man all my respect. I think, if he does plan to kill me- he has planned it and it will happen and so I may as well just acknowledge that he is human and we are both here, sharing the same space until he does what he planned to do.
At this exact moment of sending all my respect another man stops at my seat. He takes off his long tailored trench. I notice his salt and pepper hair. He is shaven. His cords are clean. He sits down and I shift my body closer to the window. “Oh I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said. I register an English accent. The tension drains from my body and I am flooded with the feeling of safe.
My cells recognize his cells. There is an immediate chemical reaction. My social concerns are comforted by his social norms. I instantaneously understand that he is not going to hurt me. I rest.
I fall asleep listening to the young man one seat ahead of me (sitting in the diarrhea) talking animatedly to an elderly woman he just met about his plans for schooling, about the icy roads ahead.
Before I put my book down the English man beside me leans over and softly asks “Do you read for inspiration or do you read for pleasure?” There are lovers in the farthest back seats that have been laughing for 3 hours straight.
The man behind me is now still. I don’t feel his eyes anymore. I think they are closed. I look back through the crack and I am surprised to see that he is not the race I first pegged him as. He is possibly Nepalese or Malaysian or Buddhist maybe (imagining that Buddhism is a race). He is clearly kind. He is wearing Gortex. His hair is short. His eyes are crinkled up. He looks smart even when he is sleeping.
It was all a lie. My fear made my eyes see an Other that wasn’t even there. What an incredible and horrible imagination I hold. Like Superman did, I must train to use this power responsibly.
And as I drift off the most vulnerable of all things that could happen, does. A sleeper on this bus lets one loose. We don’t know who’s it is. The suspect is invisible. It could be anybody. It could have even been me. The same heavy nocturnal fart blankets us all. In that moment amongst all this madness and mirage, all is made clear to me. We are all so soft, we are all so scared and everything just might turn out to be okay.