a ride not long enough

10 September 2009

One of the legs of my morning journey to work is a very short bus ride, maybe eight minutes at most.  We end up at a station where everyone gets off to either grab a connecting bus or the subway.  Today a fella gets on this bus, who looks like any average bloke going to the office.  He’s dressed casually but in a decent shirt and trousers, and he looks to be in his late fifties.  In my mind, I guess accountant in a small office. 

He pops open a briefcase as soon as he sits down, and I’m at once amused and intrigued by the cacophony of contents revealed.  It’s like a really messy desk that hasn’t been cleaned in 20 years.  A few pens are shoved in slots in the inside top, which is decorated with hundreds of random ink marks.  Other pockets in the top are stuffed with post it notes, receipts, markers, little note pads, wads of paper, combs and several floppy disks.  (I envision a dirty old desk somewhere with a really old computer and a keyboard blackened with years of fingerprints, and feel concerned that he really should get those floppies burned onto a CD in advance of that old computer’s imminent demise.)

He starts fishing though the case, through notebooks, file folders, sheaves of paper, printed sheets, pictures, small bottles, markers, pens, a calculator, newspaper clippings, paperback books, notebooks… and voila – digs out a pencil.  Then he roots around some more and finds a pencil sharpener and proceeds to sharpen the pencil. 

Then he begins digging around in the thing again, finally producing a sheet of paper with some sort of blank grid, and then the calculator.  By this time, I’m thinking that he’s exerted a lot of effort in digging out this stuff, when we’re going to arrive at the station in a minute or two and he’s going to have to get off and transfer to wherever he is going.

THEN, after more sifting and not finding, he starts shuffling through a shopping bag he’s got on the floor between his feet, searching for some other item amongst the old, yellowed Metro Times commuter papers, file folders with ancient looking curled sheets in them, and wads of other paper just shoved in.  He pulls out a plastic bag and sticks it on the seat behind him.  Other junk follows to the seat and I want to give him a disapproving look because litterbugs irk the hell out of me but he’s too busy to notice me.

He pulls out a yellowed book and begins fanning the pages for the mysterious mislaid thing. I think the book is a biography based on the pictures in it but I can’t get a look at the title.  Then he pulls out a school atlas which has to be at least 50 years old and fans through the pages of that as well.  Alas – because these objects are starting to get interesting – I depart the bus as he proceeds to replace the books and stuff and reopen the case to put back the pencil and calculator and I wonder if he’s even going to make it off the bus before it starts its route again.  But then again, my feeling is, this poor fella is already navigating something of a circular ride through this life. 

As I’m waiting in line for my connection a short way away, I watch for him and he finally walks by.  I look into his face to see if there is evidence of what kind of psyche is behind that busy, busy, seemingly fruitless search amongst the contents of that briefcase and shopping bag; the contents of which are not exactly what one would expect an accountant in a small office to be carrying to work. 

All I see as he walks by me toward the entrance to the subway is man who is, simply, a million miles away. 

For his sake, I hope he has a longer ride on the next leg of his journey so that he can find the things he is looking for, and do with them the things he was needing to do.

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