Pain Killers

I'm on the bus home from work again.   I sit in my favourite spot in the back corner by the window.  Here I can see everything passing by on the outside, and also everyone coming in.  As usual, the elderly, infirm, and parents with small children sit near the front.  The loudmouthed high school kids, commuters with sensible sneakers replacing their office pumps, and people-watching lurkers like myself, sit in the back.  

The bus is a people watcher's fantasy.  I recall one cold, wet day in winter when it was jam packed with commuters and holiday shoppers with their large bags making space even more scarce.  A ragged, sallow-faced couple shoved their way to the back of the bus, screaming expletives at each other while they struggled to find seats together.  The girl shoved a homeless man who had fallen asleep with his garbage bag of cans occupying a seat.  After verbally assaulting him for a moment she gave up and found two seats in the back, just a few feet from me, and proceeded to peel several Mandarin oranges with furious concentration, adding the sections to her half full bag of various other fruits while the rinds fell onto the floor.  Then she dumped a box of jelly beans into the bag and discarded the packaging in the same manner as the rinds.   Next she pulled a small, folded square of paper out of her pocket and opened it to reveal several chunks of crack rock which she picked apart and stuffed into her plastic pipe in front of the surely horrified yet scared silent bus passengers.  I felt their horror, yet I was fascinated.

Strangely, I've never felt unsafe on the bus, even though I may have had reason to.  Once there were only a few of us sitting in the back,  and a clearly intoxicated man stumbled onto the bus and decided he'd sit beside me.  He wore an oversized, baggy t-shirt and sweatpants, all encrusted with a shower of dried blood that seemed to have originated from his battered face.  Then the smell hit my nostrils and I became immediately nauseous.    I could not place the scent at first, but knew it was comparable to a thousand permanent markers shoved up my nose, maybe with a sprinkle of nail polish.  

I struggled to open the window.  He saw me struggling and motioned and grunted to another passenger to help me.  I suppose I was mildly touched by his concern, or perhaps bewildered that he was capable of reasoning.  I silently cursed the bus driver as I looked at the open tin in the man's hands.  He tipped it onto a rag that he quickly placed over his mouth while inhaling deeply.  Paint thinner.  His pain killer.

The bus today is not quite as eventful, everyone is mostly keeping to themselves, no one is trying to make friends or invade anyone else's air.  Some are reading, some are texting, some are listening to their iPods and staring out the window like me.  

Then I see him.  A slight, red-faced man with sadness in his eyes looking down at the floor but not at anything in particular.  I recognized the moustache, except the whiskers were not sprouting happily this time, but pointing in the direction of his frown.  No distinctive scent, no light in his eye, no questions or stories today.   I felt sad for Wayne and wondered where he was going but decided not to bother him.

The End

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