4PM. A man chooses to sit next to me at the bus stop. He grunts softly, which I assume is because the benches are wet, as he makes impact with the darkened wood. The cars in front of us are speeding at a rapid speed causing excess rainwater to pile at my feet, sometimes even my jeans causing a shiver to run through my spine. The man shifts closer to me, leaving the end of the bench free for any other welcomed strangers. As he maneuvers his body, I wait for his umbrella to push against mine and open my mouth to allow a sheepish apology to escape my lips. Fortunately, the collision never occurs and I sigh, relaxing into my seat. It takes me a while to notice, as I am swaying with the harsh winds, that the stranger does not have an umbrella perched upwards in his hand, cursing silently at the uneventful weather. Instead, he sits in silence, and if I weren’t so intrigued by him, I would have forgotten his presence. However, I force upon a nonchalant face as I direct my attention back to the busy road, waiting patiently for my bus to arrive.
After a couple minutes of exchanging puffs of breaths, the man besides me reaches his long, tanned arms towards the ground. It is now that I take notice of his attire which consists of ripped jeans and a sleeveless tank top. Incredulously, I watch goosebumps arise onto his arms as he stretches his arms, cracking his joints. From the corner of my eye, I subtly and curiously watch his hand reach up to run through his soaked hair. I cannot see his face due to my opaque umbrella, however, I assume his face is just as wet as his clothes and jaw clenched from the chilly winds.
“Hurricane weather” the forecast had predicted. Was this man oblivious to the conditions outside or could he simply care less? I feel another shiver run through my body when the man rubs his arms as if he were suddenly aware of the frigid weather. Still, he makes no effort to dart back home.
Thunder booms in the distance and I am startled by the deafening noise, jolting upwards as if struck by lightning. The man besides me hardly flinches, turning his head towards the direction of the noise. I am unable to tell if he’s gazing at the trees or the sky.
Suddenly, I feel guilty. What if this man hadn’t heard the news this morning? Or worse, what if this man couldn’t afford an umbrella to carry with him at times like these? What kind of spiteful person would I be to deny this stranger an extra day with a healthy immune system? My cheeks flush into a light pink as I rapidly grow irritated with myself for not thinking of these possibilities earlier.
Taking a deep breath, I lean over and nudge the man’s bare shoulder with the edge of my umbrella, tilting my head forward to catch a glimpse of his reaction. To my immediate dismay, the man doesn’t respond. I am slightly annoyed by this situation and shove the end of my umbrella further into his bicep. His eyes stay faithfully trained on the colossal, dead trees as if attempting to decipher where the noise had come from as he speaks in a deep voice, “Yes?”
I clear my throat. “It appears to me that you don’t have an umbrella. Would you like to share mine?”
Without waiting for his answer, I raise my aching arm slightly higher to cover both our heads. His hair begins to drip onto his soaked jeans. It takes him a couple seconds to tear his eyes from the trees, however as he looks down at me, I suddenly wish I had never offered. His dark eyes are deep in thought, eyebrows scrunched, blinking softly. They look irritated, as if he had forced himself awake from a wonderful afternoon nap. I think for a moment, wondering if he is high on some kind of drug that did miracles for him. Due to what he says next, my suspicions are confirmed.
“No, thank you,” he nods appreciatively, shoving the hair that had flopped onto his forehead, drawing back a wet hand, clenched fist resting in his lap.
He pushes the umbrella down back to my figure and runs a hand over his drenched face. He stares at the road, tongue sticking out from the corner of his mouth, hard lines appearing around his mouth and between his eyebrows as he frowns deep. He doesn’t appear angry; just deep in thought.
Persistent, I say, “Do you really want to catch a disease?”
Upon hearing this, his lips curl into a grin, looking down at me with softer eyes filled to the brim with mischief. “Yes, I’m going for pneumonia today. Perhaps hypothermia next month?”
Apprehensively, I stare at him in awe. His hair has flattened against his head, raindrops dripping from his cupid's bow. He looks good when he smiles. “What? Are you insane?”
He shrugs, smile still evident, scanning the traffic. “I reckon I might get sick.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“Of course not. Who wants to be ill?”
I suddenly understand why my mother taught me not to talk to strangers. This guy is absolutely lost and has no clue as to what he is uttering. The man notices my confused face and his smile only broadens until it reaches his eyes, nodding understandingly. “I’m not crazy, I get what you’re thinking.”
“What I’m thinking?” I ask in wonderment.
“Yes, you’re confused as to why I’m basically killing myself on purpose,” he shrugs as if he’s been misunderstood before. He grins again shortly after, tongue playfully pressed against the inside of his cheek. “Do you have the time for explanation? Or the attention span?”
There’s fifteen minutes left until my bus is due to arrive so I nod encouragingly, surprisingly eager to hear this man’s reasoning.
“Well,” he begins, diverting his attention back to the heavy traffic, “you know how some people just need to relax sometimes? I find that I stress too much so I take daily visits to extremely crowded areas to find some peace. Before you say anything, I know it’s odd. I’m not crazy and, don’t worry, I know about “zen” and all that needs a quiet, silenced area but to be sitting right here and just taking in a frenzy environment is blissful.”
I raise an eyebrow at his statements and ponder over his words. When I show no sign of responding, he opens his mouth again. The rain quickens so he continues a little louder, “One of my friends goes to the beach every Saturday. My cousin hangs out with his girlfriend’s grandparents because he’s so fascinated by their stories. They feel relaxed.”
“And you like to come down here and watch the traffic no matter what weather,” I clarify, a hint of humor to my tone that he doesn’t catch.
He looks back at me with glazed, unfocused eyes. “Yeah. There’s billions of people on this planet and have you ever thought how much their lives differ from yours? See, look-” he interrupts himself to point to the traffic where a red Porsche is bumper to bumper with a rusty truck, “what do you think that man has accomplished today? Check out at that smug look, he’s satisfied with himself. Maybe he’s going to impress his girlfriend’s family by showing them how much money he has. Maybe he’s going to the club? He’s wearing a suit; maybe he’s going to an important meeting and needs to impress his boss? Or maybe he is the boss of a major company? There’s so many possibilities as to what could be going on in their lives. It’s a hobby of mine to fantasize and sculpt their lives in my head.”
“Oh, I see.”
He takes a deep breath as his eyes focus on me. “Is that creepy?”
“No,” I think out loud, “I mean, if it helps you relax, then sure, go for it.”
He nods slowly, blinking. “Okay, I’ll continue ‘going for it’. Besides, it’s not like they know what’s going through my head. That’s the fun part. They have no idea how I’m imagining their lives.”
“And this helps you relieve stress?” I ask.
“It helps me feel connected to the human soul. Makes me feel like…” for the first time, he is struggling with his words, using his hands in an effort to convey his message, “...like I belong somewhere, you know? Wow, that’s so depressing, but it’s really not like that if you think deep enough. Everyone is linked to the human soul in some way and this is my method.”
I am beginning to understand. I think he knows I’m not quite on the same page as him but it doesn’t matter.
Suddenly I am aware that my bus is approaching. To my dismay, it is too early and our conversation is cut short when his dark eyes notice the immense bus slowly inching towards the edge of the curb, sighing in annoyance at the unfortunate traffic and weather.
As I climb the steps onto the bus, tugging the soaked change out of my pocket, I glance back at the man who is attentively focused on the traffic. I watch his eyes follow the red Porsche until it is out of sight, eyes settling on an old, blue Honda afterwards, scrunching his eyebrows, tongue peeking out from the corner of his mouth again. I say, “Rain might stop by the time I find myself at another bus stop. Want to borrow my umbrella?”
The man grins, pushing his sopping damp hair back again as he keeps his eyes on the beat-up family van. “Next time I see you, I’ll consider the offer.”
I see him the next day; the weather still horrid, however (to my delight) he politely rejects my offer to share the umbrella and speaks about the woman with the two toddlers in the back of a yellow convertible. I enjoy listening to him speak. I learn that he’s a gesticulative person and that his eyes crinkle when his smile is genuine.
I also learn that he has caught a cold.