When the train got in, the clock at the station said it was 10 to 3. It was actually 11:17. The yellow station and its protruding blue clock rose almost out of nowhere, green and brown fields all around it, a brook a few yards away in between two lines of chestnut trees, dried-up in spite of the recent rains. Caked mud beside white clouds and a warming sun. It felt like that moment when at the Phaeacians’ court, Ulysses struggles to make sense of his past, unable to separate his own self from the stories about his exploits at far-away Troy – in time, in space, the city that had been destroyed. It also felt miles from the other city where the train had, merely an hour before, pulled away. And it was in actual fact, that being the only thing that felt and was the same.
An old one had been resurrected. A bus, that is. And it bumped along, and the windows all shook in sync at every pothole on the roads. By the park, it almost tipped over while swerving around a bend. Most windows shook because they couldn’t close anymore – and the night was cold, so you could see little pieces of paper, folded many times over, sticking out here and there between the windows and their broken clasps. It looked like the bus was all decked out for the imminent holiday season. A bank statement: a withdrawal from two days before; a receipt: bread, 150 grams of ham, 3 bottl…
One piece fell, and it was of a different nature altogether. Some lines of Dante’s Divine Comedy, from a night of (reading? poetry?) It had rained and the illegible part had been out of the window, braving the elements. It was Hell.
It gets dark so early now – she whispered. A streetlight had just been lit. The man behind her was thinking – you could tell – back at the time when they used candles to light streetlights and it was all amber-yellow. As if he’d been there in person! She hated the reflection of herself in the huge window of the bus as each streetlight seemed to get its neon activated when the bus passed by it, it did something unpleasant to the red of her hair, so she tried to take the bus only before it got too dark – the sun never did create unpleasant impressions while riding through the city. Suddenly both were jolted forward and slightly to the right, a screech of the brakes and a few damning words in at least three languages: tourists! She turned around and caught the look in his eyes – he didn’t react. He was thinking now of old stagecoaches and horse-drawn buggies. She could tell.
Yellow blouse sitting opposite has already taken out her little purse to give the poor woman some change. Not too willingly, she makes a point of showing. Her funny facial contortions, “It’s not my fault, what are governments doing? These people come here and it’s up to us to feel guilty and have enough compassion to give them whatever little we have. Coffee with a friend this morning – on me! – he’s going through a hard time – dinner with another tomorrow – and now this poor mother with a child, I live in a shack near the station, please…”
But the mother turns out to be wealthy, i.e. one of us, and is only dragging her child through the subway train to get a seat. A tattered kick-scooter creaks along the woman’s daughter, in scanty summer clothes; misleading ideas of poverty for compassionate nearsighted people, now zipping up their purses one after the other.
The city has its way of making people edgy at any average 7:58 am. Always with a reason: the heat, the cold, traffic, congestion on public transport – tiny sidewalks at bus stops! The workforce spills out of the subway, a woman halts as her phone loses the Skype connection, thinks that by standing there in the middle of the flow it’ll get it back – she’s from a remote foreign country, is she talking to family? Not to be known. At the next stop, getting off, a boy ahead wears a T-shirt bearing the writing “Day One.” Apocalyptic, as ant-like creatures march in unison to above ground speaking at least ten different languages. Although there probably never was a day one. We cut time and we weren’t around when day one started. And when we were, we had to account for epochs before our presumed zero. Will the guy wear “Day Two” tomorrow? Unlikely.
Time is a relative thing. It can only be measured in passing. There occurred general amusement on the bus when the middle-aged woman in the flashily purple nails took her phone out to answer a call. Her veined, slightly tanned hand clutched the little thing – some latest micro model – and put it right in front of her mouth: “Hello!”, then realized the other end was talking so moved the phone to the ear, for a while, nodding, mentally preparing her response, and when she could, placed the phone again at mouth level and said her piece, then swiftly back to the ear so as not to miss the answer. Giggles from the teenage girls in the back, and more mature nods of bewilderment from older folks. “She’s using it like she’s on WhatsApp!” Oblivious of this and content, the lady, stuck with her phone in some beginning of twentieth century, got off a few stops later.
When the rhythm of the gears of spring goes into motion so that days will be mellower and easier to bear, then people start dressing in fewer layers and shirts appear in lieu of coats, and scarfs and gloves are soon forgotten. And people also more decidedly go for the window on public transport to open it and let air in. And the deception always lasts the longest on public transport. “S**t! This cold wind…” “’t was sunny like hell yesterday!” And with a congregation of happy folks assembling at bus stops and squeezing in on train platforms, the looks start to wander/wonder who started coughing or sneezing or blaming this constant change of weather, suddenly those funny idiots who kept their scarfs are heralded as judicious and not shortsighted, after all it’s “every year the same.” Nature, blossoming in fantastically green buds and multicolored flowers, watches on, while Zephyr blows, approaching slowly from far away.
“Security [in life] is taking some means of transport twice a day, to go to work and then come back home”, say authoritative books. It is also the opinion of many. On the bus, everybody is bobbing and shaking, the bus has hit a pothole, and then another, and another, and yet another, while skirting a rocky hill in the city. Some huge stones have fallen, the houses at the bottom had to be evacuated and there are barriers now, the area cordoned off so as to make it unequivocal that people are forbidden to walk there – Pedestrians on the other side! – where, waiting at the bus&tram stop, we see open green shutters and the usual white curtains, but oddly enough no one ever peeking out. They say the hill is a network of ancient tunnels dug into the rock and yet gigantic upscale high-rises tower high on top of what must be just friable air.
While as much as one fifth of the population might not know they’re actually celiac – so take the test, 50% off till the end of January! – we all found out pretty quickly that the escalators in the subway can become quite narrow on arctic winter days, when the stand-on-the-right and walk-on-the-left policy just can’t work right as our ballooning winter coats and jackets over layers of shirts, undershirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts etc. just make us so puffy there’s no room left, on the left. Elbows sticking out on the other side, some holding bags – It’s too tight if you don’t stretch out a bit! The rhythm of sorry and excuse me starts orchestra-like at every unloading of inflated passengers, reduced to strutting, chests out, like a disbanded horde of overly proud army officers I saw once in a French movie, marching while eating a tart, gluten not being much of a problem then.
“In light of the fact that my clothes are hanging on the doornail, I think I should explain why I’m lying here naked in your bed. You see, last night…” “No, no.” “But it’s important, you mustn’t think I sneaked my way in. You see, last night…” “No, no!” “But if I don’t tell you, then I’ll be the only one to know and I don’t want that. So you see, last…” pause for effect, anticipating. The other looked, was about to say the two-letter starts-with-N and ends-with-O word – didn’t. “…night, there was a crowd partying in the street, along the boulevard, and fireworks, and the garbage cans were on fire, people were peering from their windows, and then like fire shots too in the background. I met you on the shore, near the deserted summer pavilion. I thought the night had scared you, too. And then we came to this part of town.”