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Blessings of Public Transportation MAG
I didn't mean to sit down next to the guy in the orange cap. It just sort of happened. I mean, it definitely could have been worse. I could have been stuck next to the sleeping old lady in the sari, who was relentlessly drooling all over her own chest, or the guy with dreadlocks passing the time by flailing about in his seat and wailing along to some song I'd never heard that must have been blasting on his iPod. But it could have gone better, and as the bus driver all but slammed the gas pedal, effectively throwing me down next to the aforementioned orange hat guy, I bit the inside of my cheek and eyed the empty seat a few rows back that I had been going for, all the while unable to focus on anything but what a miserable day this had been and how I didn't want to sit next to some stupid college guy on the bus and how much I thought my life sucked. It had just been one of those days where you don't feel like you want to smile ever again, and now … hello, bus weirdo.
But I guess I couldn't say for sure. I mean, fate owed me big time. Maybe this would turn out to be a quiet one. Someone I was more capable of coexisting with.
“HI!” he screamed in my ear. “MY NAME'S DANIEL! HOW ARE YOU?”
Never mind. Definitely not a quiet one.
“Fine, thanks,” I said, my voice expertly clipped. “Just a little bit …,” I paused to study him, wondering if he would go for a little white bus lie, and decided to experiment with “tired.” Adding a yawn for emphasis, I sank down in my seat, praying desperately to any entity merciful enough to listen that he would get off soon. (I had learned the hard way that people you've already sat down next to usually don't take it well when you move.)
Thank you, oh glori-
“WHAT'S YOUR NAME?”
This guy was obviously either rude, stupid, or able to see right through my bus lie. As I slid one eye open to look at his round, earnest face, I couldn't help but cross off rude. Still, I fed him another bus lie, urgently hoping he fit under the stupid category. “Um, Rachel.”
I may not be proud of her name, but the personality I undertook when I slipped into the role of Rachel made her one of my favorites of all of the personas I had created in my years of mastering the public transportation system. Sure, there were some slightly more believable and original personas, like the sweet, shy, British Anna, or the rough-and-tumble Claire, whose gruff Brooklyn accent threw people off in a manner that was almost as violent as her sinister smile. But Rachel, though dangerously close to my actual personality, was my favorite. Shy, with the common Southern voice, she had a lot to say, but no real desire to actually say it.
A rush of air from the window blew a strand of my hair in my face, and I remembered belatedly that Rachel always wore a ponytail. I wasn't bound to run into anyone who knew Rachel anyway. After all, Daniel certainly didn't know her. “HOW ARE YOU?”
Deciding that emphasizing, again, how “tired” I was would prove pointless, I (smilelessly) told Daniel I was “Doing fine, thank you, and yourself?” to which he replied, “FANTASTIC! ISN'T THIS AMAZING WEATHER?” (It was 109 freaking degrees – definitely not “amazing,” but I made an effort to twist my mouth into some semblance of a smile and nod anyhow.)
One good thing about Daniel was that I rarely had to actually speak to him. He kept the conversation going all on his own, with the occasional nod and fake laugh (still totally smile-free), letting in just enough interaction to seem polite, if not social.
He told me about college life. He talked about Davy, his Statistics 102 professor, who liked to be called Professor Stadely but always got called Davy anyway, who spent a whole trimester talking about the impending zombie apocalypse and teaching his students how to defend themselves against the undead.
He told me about Richard, who lived in a room down the hall. His favorite color was green. In fact, he liked it so much that he dyed his beard green. His mother, one of the school lunch ladies, didn't approve. He also told me about his roommate, who went by Comet, and how he duct taped a ruler to their cat's tail because he thought it would be funny if it was permanently straight, but had been unable to get the tape off (okay, so maybe I laughed for real at that one).
The more Daniel talked, the more I realized he wasn't stupid, or intuitive. He was an individual. He wasn't a pest, an annoyance. Well, maybe he was. But above all, he was just a guy.
Eventually, as happens with all bus conversations, Daniel reached up and yanked on the yellow cord, signifying his imminent exit. And to think, I was almost sorry to see him go. Then he opened his mouth and abruptly changed the subject.
“Anyway,” he said, in a suddenly normal voice, “my real name is Bryce. Can I get yours before I leave?”
And just like that, I desperately wanted him to stay on that bus. So I did the only honorable thing I've done on a bus in years. I told him the truth.
“Cool. See you around, Karen.”
And Bryce left the bus, taking Daniel.
Okay, so then I might have smiled.