2. On the Bus
I sit proudly on the bus.
This is not so much a conscious choice as an innate behaviour, a full enjoyment of the space in which I find myself. I sigh and stretch. If with friends, I pontificate. I relax into the outer extent of my being and it is gratifying to occupy it fully.
Today, however, is different. For I am in company, but not with friends. A doughy man, immense in stature, enters my space, positioning himself on the seat next to mine. His ghostly complexion and greasy countenance could hardly have been designed by some creative to more effectively elicit disgust. He nudges slightly, settles into himself. A grunt echoes up from chamber at back of throat, and he positions his clammy right knee quite adjacent to my left.
There is an invisible but clearly perceptible divider between his seat and mine. The halfway line, the midway-point, no-man’s land. Outer space. No one but a psychopath would stray fully across the line, but on its edge there is advantage to be gained and prestige to be earned. For I pride myself on owning my space, not hunching nor retreat. My opponent, it seems clear, is of the same mind.
As the aggressor, he instigates, with a quick nudge of his knee into mine as he settles once again. “Sorry,” he mumbles, but I am wise to the tricks of this dangerous rogue. I can tell I am facing a serious player. “Not at all,” I drip acid honey on his outstretched limb.
At a flash, I see him off at the pass, with a quick stretch of the leg and hold across the line. A madman’s dash into no-man’s land. A fool’s errand, or a hero’s wager - only time will tell. His eyes narrow, his glasses slide down his nose. A single bead of perspiration sluglike leaves its trail as its crawls from brow to chin.
He dusts off the most intimidating weapons in his artillery. A surprisingly angular elbow is engaged, and as he reaches into his bag on some false pretence of retrieving a packet of crisps or a cat or something similarly mundane, it homes in on my weak spot.
“Guffaw!” I guffaw, as his humerus jabs my kidney. Slyly, he apologises again, as he strokes his crisps and eats a cat. He thinks himself on the cusp of victory, as his knee rotates outwards once more.
We’re locked together now, him and I, in a vicious dance to the death. Most observers wouldn’t pay heed to the intricacies of our motion, the subtleties of our fated duel. A nudge from him, a gentle push from me. A shuffle and a dink followed by a slip, I meet it with an expert hold, a tarry and a quibble, followed by an aggressive blink and an expressive sniff. I slump and then slide up, surprising him, surprising myself, and realise I’m several miles past my stop.
I press the bell, taking the opportunity to aggressively thrust my armpit into his outstretched nostril. A classic move but he suspected me too cerebral a player to be so brazen. He is unprepared - he gags, chokes, retreats, submits. At the last, I have triumphed.
“My stop, mate,” I whisper, and I see now how I must seem to my fallen opponent; a demon incarnate, a hooded wretch, some unthinkable childhood horror made flesh. His blood runs cold and a single tear trickles down his pasty cheek.
I step proudly off the bus.
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