Conversation on a Nighttime Bus

Alexander Street, Vancouver

I was sitting on a crowded bus at quarter to ten at night, my backpack on my lap and my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow open in front of me. I was endeavouring to read but was struggling against the noise of the guy sitting across from me who was freestyle rapping to his friend.  I kept mouthing the words of Gravity’s Rainbow, trying to make sense of the placeless setting they created. believing in the primacy of the ‘conscious’ self and its memories, regarding “Miss?” regarding all the rest as abnormal or trivial, and so he is “Miss?” troubled, deeply…

“Yes?” I replied, looking up at the man beside me. He was scruffily bearded, wearing a light jacket, dirty sneakers and a blue sheet around his waist.

“Do you have to  move your lips when you read?” He laughed. I laughed.

“No,” I said, “but I do it when the bus is loud so I can better concentrate on the words.”

“Is it a complicated book?” he asked.

“Yes, very. It’s about war, and that’s all I can say about the plot right now.”

“I’m not much of a reader. I like cartoons and Sudoku.”

“Those are both good things,” I replied, and I focused on the page. She has a few marks with her, Franz has his toy rockets to the moon.

“Do you know when the liquor store closes?”

I put my finger on the end of the sentence. “No, I can’t say I do.”

“It might close at ten, but I’m hoping it closes at eleven.”

I thought about it. “Yes, I think it closes at eleven.” I looked again at the page. It is really over.

“I was down at Wreck Beach today.” I nodded at my book. “We had a ceremony for a friend who died, one of the regulars down there.” I looked up at him. He looked far away. “We built a campfire. We took the box they gave us with his ashes and had a ceremony.”

“That’s a nice place to have it,” I said quietly.

“When I go, I hope they do the same for me.” He paused. “I scattered my parents’ ashes in the Fraser River.”

“All of my family is in Ontario.”

He turned his head to me. “Are any of them in the ground there?”

“Yes, all of my grandparents.”

We both fell silent. After a minute he said, “I’m going to go to the front of the bus so I can see if the liquor store is open before I get off.”

“I hope it’s open until eleven,” I said with a smile.

“I hope so too,” he replied. “If I don’t see you again, have a good life.”

“Thank you. Same to you.” I watched him walk to the front of the bus, the blue sheet draping towards the floor. I read a few more pages and went a stop further than I usually do before I walked out into the cold November air. I thought of his words, I hope they do the same for me, and I felt cold.

Song of the Day: Strange Hellos by Torres

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