February 24 2016
It was that time of the night when dreams of the unattainable — a warm room, a bed, crisp, clean sheets, a heavy quilt — become obsessional. We, dejected travellers, sat on uncomfortable plastic chairs surrounding plastic tables covered with plastic tablecloths in the sterile bus station cafeteria. There was nothing much to do during this long pause in the journey, just order bad food or weak coffee from the indifferent man behind the counter.
Some of the other passengers had left; I was particularly grateful for the disappearance of the two dull male students whose nasal voices had filled the bus. Worshippers of the word ‘like’, they inserted it whenever fancy provided an opportunity: “So like he said, like, you know, you have to, like, do it. So I said, what if I, like, don’t understand?”
The strange-looking man who’d sat behind me, came to my table, pulled out a chair, made himself comfortable. Perhaps he wasn’t strange-looking at all? I looked around. Under the bleached light everyone looked odd. No doubt, I fit in perfectly.
“You headed west?” he asked.
“I guess I have to be, “I said gently. “Our bus is going that way. “
One table over, a young man tapped his foot to the beat of earphone noise. I wanted to flee, but to where? It was minus thirty outside.
A little further along, a grey-haired no-hoper was changing a diaper. He’d attached himself to a pioneer-looking woman with two cranky babies — she been the last to get on the bus in Toronto, and had done so announcing: “I have two babies. Who will give me a double seat?”
The no-hoper had leapt to his feet: “Gotta help her out.” And, ever since, he’d been calming the children, cleaning them up, feeding them sweets: the family lackey. Perhaps this was a budding romance? The pioneer woman with sharp cut face had ruined her handsome looks with a punk haircut. Her grey, woollen, full frock was indescribably filthy — of course it was: she used it as sponge, towel and handkerchief.
Not far away, a very young, sad-looking, dyed blond stood at the pay phone, pleading. “I’m here at the bus station. Can’t you come and pick me up? Why? Why can’t you? At the bus station. Here. In Sudbury.”
The call ended in argument and possibly bitter recrimination from the other end. She slammed down the receiver. Picked it up again, furiously punched in another number. Proceeded to make the same plea. Was even less successful. When she hung up, she looked ready to cry. Clearly, she was not the most popular person in town.
She sat down at a table where a rather handsome young man in knitted wool cap was reading Newsweek and minding his own business.
“You know what she said?” asked the blond.
Startled, but not without compassion, he put down his magazine.
“You know what she toll me? You know what she toll me? She toll me, ‘well, you wanna come out here, just hitch a ride, or go beg some money for a taxi.’”
The handsome man said nothing. Possibly he was searching for a comforting word: it’s difficult hearing a story punch line first.
The blond continued muttering: “Just hitch a ride, she tells me. Go beg money. Yeah, just hitch. Yeah right. Beg. Go beg, yeah right.”
A few minutes passed. She got up, went back to the phone, made another call. Now she was meek, wheedling. “Can I just come over and talk for a while. Just for a little while, okay? Just to say hello. I’m here at the bus station and I can just come over, okay? Just to talk, okay? Just for a while, okay?”
The plea was successful. Zipping up her jacket, pulling on woollen gloves, she left the station.