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Black and White Conversation at a Bus Stop
She is waiting at a bus stop when a man comes up to her and asks her what her name is. She does not tell him; she stares into space as if watching the movements of a bird that is searching for bugs across the road. He sits down and takes out a pack of cigarettes. He offers them to her but she does not react. She does not smoke. She will never smoke. The man turns away with a match and lights his cigarette. He exhales wisps of smoke and she is reminded of a cartoon bull. The steam coming from his nostrils as he charges. She can’t remember ever watching a cartoon with a bull that does this. The man turns to her again and she can see he is gaunt. His face is shadows and crevasses and she wonders if he has cancer. But she knows if he has cancer he would not be smoking. He should not be smoking.
With his back turned to the station’s plastic panels that display perfume ads, he taps his cigarette on the bench they are sitting on. Dead ashes fall to the ground and he brings it back to his lips. She wonders what happens when you swallow a cigarette. The man appears done. He snuffs it out and grinds it under his sneaker. She does not think this is good for the earth. The man talks to her again. He asks her why she does not smoke. She tells him she does not want to.
“What, you think you’re going to get cancer or something?” The man laughs and bends down as his laugh turns into a racking cough. She does not find this funny. He recovers slowly, gasping for breath and gripping the bench as if this will help him.
“Maybe,” she turns away and opens the book lying on her lap. It is the history of some ancient ruler, the pictures are only in black and white.
“You’re really funny, you know that? You’re hilarious.” The man grins slyly and leans over to peer at her book.
She turns away and traces a picture. It is of a vase, but the colors painted all appear to be shadows. She does not like black and white.
“Don’t like to share, hunh?”
“Oh, I see. You’re fine with sharing. Just not with me.” Again he laughs as if this is the funniest thing he has heard all day.
She thinks she hears the bus and turns back to crane her neck. There is only a tourist bus, a black tourist bus that stands out too much. She wonders why tourists always refuse to blend in, why they take such pride in their floral shirts and cameras hanging around the neck.
The man seems to think this is another opportunity to address her.
“Here, let me see what you’re looking at,” he grabs the black and white book and dangles it from the front cover, flipping through the uniform pages in succession.
“What is your problem.”She’s had enough, she will not get mad, but she will get close to mad.
“Wow, showing some emotion, hunh ice queen?” he taunts her with the dangling book and drops it back into her lap. He has bent the cover; it flips up like a sail when the book is flat. She hates when that happens.
“Leave me alone.”
“Don’t be such a b****.”
He stands up and leans against the panels. He takes out another cigarette.
She tells him he can’t smoke here.
“I really don’t care.” He lights it, watching the tip burn slowly.
A few minutes pass, she watches as he inhales and exhales to a beat in his mind.
She goes back to her black and white book.
The bus comes. It puffs out exhaust that reminds her of the man’s cigarette. She doesn’t want to take the bus anymore. She waits on the bench as the man extinguishes and swings his cigarette over his shoulder.
She flings the cigarette lying at her feet in the direction of his face. It misses.
He blows her a sarcastic kiss, she looks down at her book and starts a new chapter displaying a black and white warhorse.
He gets on the bus and leaves. She doesn’t watch him go. She blows at the cigarette smoke lingering in the air.