The last few weeks the bus has carried passengers with blotting paper faces; each of us in our little, isolated puddles of misery, barely acknowledging the presence of other human beings. Unless, that is, one of them intrudes on our space.
There is a woman who occasionally gets on the bus, usually when it is more or less empty. She ignores the empty seats and plops down with a great, gusty sigh next to some blameless soul, spreading herself over the seat like Hitler invading Poland. She did it to me once, when I was the only person on the bus. I looked around in what I considered a pointed sort of fashion (I have an advanced degree in passive aggression). She remained as immovably impassive as an Easter Island statue. I gazed around some more, leaning forward, looking back over my shoulder, taking in the full panorama of empty bus seats before fixing my disapproving gaze on the side of her head once more. I received a sidelong glance, no more. Finally, I broke. ‘Ummm, there are plenty of empty seats...why are you sitting in this one....?’
She twisted around as well as she could, dislodging two potatoes, a hairbrush and a Curly Wurly from her gaping handbag and said...’I want to sit here.’
Well, there’s no answer to that, is there? Or at least, not if you are wedged against the window by someone who looks as if they snack on puppies and kittens, as well as raw potatoes and Curly Wurly's.
Curiously, something similar happened to me at the weekend. There I sat, in corner of a perfectly empty room, peacefully perusing the Sunday paper when a woman walked across the empty room, past all the other chairs and tables and sofas--to come and sit across from me. We would have been knee to knee if it weren’t for the fact that she was sitting with her feet in the chair—tailor fashion—like a badly folded piece of origami. She spent several minutes adjusting her various layers of lycra, squirming like a small child listening to a long sermon and fiddling with her ringleted, red hair. She looked as if she was working a Madonna/ Little Orphan Annie vibe.
She rearranged her legs and wiggled some more. She twisted her clothes. She wiggled again. She sighed. She put her hair up in a stretchy headband. She took her hair down. She put her hair up again.
I tried my previously unsuccessful bus tactic (I'm a slow learner) of looking around the room, staring pointedly, looking around again, staring again--but this time with a ruefully arched eyebrow (I am always open to new techniques).
She squirmed some more, then with great ceremony took a book on Bikram yoga out of her patchwork bag and made great work of opening it, holding it in front of her face about four inches from her nose. The subject matter wasn’t entirely surprising, given the lycra and the ‘let’s sit like a swami’ thing.--her bare arms looked as they had been badly plaited.
She read for about thirty seconds. Then she put the book down and wriggled. Then she picked the book up and read for about 15 seconds. Put the book down. Wiggled. Picked the book up. Re-arranged my stuff on the table next to me, pushing my bag onto the floor. Picked the book up again, Put it down. Wriggled. Sighed. Did the thing with her hair again.
When she pushed my papers off the table and spilled my cup of chai, I suggested she might find it easier if she sat somewhere she had a bit more room.
‘I can’t,’ she replied. ‘I have to sit near a window. I need the openness.’
I managed not to point out that the window was currently in a state of closedness or that there was another one just like it three feet away.
‘Claustrophobic?’ I asked, sympathetically.
‘No,’ she replied. ‘It’s just a ‘me’ thing.’
As she worked her way through the entire wriggle, sigh, etc. process again, I decided to go and started to gather up my things.
‘Would you like my paper?’ I asked (you can’t beat hostility veiled in politeness—it built an empire).
‘God no,’ she exclaimed. ‘They just glorify greed and evil--all that corporate consumerism—it hurts my soul.’ She picked up her yoga book again, shuddering as if I had tried to contaminate her. I wouldn’t have minded so much if she hadn’t been drinking a bucket of crappacino at the time.
As I left I noticed she had moved to the opposite side of the room, where someone else was now sitting. She was playing with her hair and reading a copy of ‘Hello’.