I took the bus to a school where I was scheduled to supply teach for one day, thank god only one, I thought. Hated the school I was going to, hated the crippled geometry of the neighbourhood, hated worse the bus that took me through it.
Hadn’t slept, was fogged up and bleary, my head infested and buzzing with undreamt dreams like fat squash bugs crawling up and down on the inside of my skull. I sat by a window, looked out at a brick gas station with a puke-yellow sign, closed my eyes. The bus was jammed – bridled kids going to school, catatonics like me herding off to work, three outsize strollers, a baby human puppy-wauling in what looked like an armor-plated dune buggy.
Four stops before my stop, a man and a woman climbed in. They had a mangy, mangy yellow dog who got squeezed by people’s legs. The couple pushed their way through the crowd in the front half of the bus.
“’Scuse me,” he said loud, while they shouldered through. They came to a halt close to me – close to where I was sitting.
“’Scuse US,” she said, “It’s US, ‘Scuse US!” It was summer and she was massive. Rolls of hot flesh gobbed over her bright blue shorts, bloomed out from her armpits, bloused down from her shoulders. He was a tough with a barrel belly and he was tattooed all over his arms – visions of chaos and Armageddon right there on his biceps. Biblical. Their scrawny dog scrunched itself small under my bench seat.
“Us,” she repeated, “When you say ‘’scuse’, you should say us not me.”
“Shut your face, bitch. I’ll say ‘t the fuck I want.”
“Shut your own face, asshole.”
“You call me that, I’ll flatten your face.”
“Threaten me, I’ll call the cops.”
“You’re a witch. You oughta be cremated alive.”
“If that’s not a threat, I don’t know what the fuck it is.” Squint.
Pause. “It’s a threat.”
“You just threatened me.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“Shut your face.”
This exchange looped at high pitch and full volume for the next four stops. Traffic was solid, so that meant about over ten minutes.
I was cowed by it, I thought that she, if not her, someone else might get hurt. When we crawled closer towards my stop, I stood up early and slipped past them, just as he yelled, “If you fuckin’ call me that again, I’m gonna fuckin’ smash on the back of your stupid fuckin’ head.”
I twisted my way towards the front, and I saw that not one person, not one, was paying a shrip of attention to the fight or even making any special effort not to pay attention to it – like looking away with that strain in the neck which is a deliberate strain. Everyone ignored it calmly like it was just not happening. The school kids scraped their teeth on chemical candy bars, an old lady smiled wide because a teenager stood up to give her a seat, even the yowling baby stopped yowling and started to squeach and drool while his mother leaned into his armored vehicle and shook a plastic giraffe in his face. All this was going on while the screaming couple went on screaming at high volume intensity without a pause, without even a break. Was I the only one hearing this, or what the - ?
As I sorry-sorry-sorried my way to the front door, it was the same all the way up. No one listened, no one made any comment, not so much as a “tsk”, or a “whoa” and no one bothered to even glance. I stood close by the driver, I was standing well past the white line of no crossing, but I considered my cause to be more than important enough to violate such a rule. The bus was edging up to my stop.
“Listen,” I said, “I think there’s a kind of a fight going on back there – it could get dangerous. I mean, he’s threatening her, and they’re screaming. It could get violent.”
The driver half smiled and looked at me sideways.
“Don’t worry about it.” The door whinged open. “Have a nice day.”
I got off the bus mad. What the hell. The driver didn’t even care. Somebody could’ve got hurt, seriously even. I thought I would call the Transit Office that afternoon to report the incident – and the driver, but the day got busy, I forgot about it, so I didn’t.
When I got home, I was truly, sackly leveled, slept ‘til eight when the phone rang. They wanted me to go back next day. What – One more day. Needed the money. Don’t be torn, I said in my head, don’t say no. Not too torn, I agreed. That night I slept the bad and “fitful” sleep, full of fits, like short fits of sleep followed by long fits of being awake. I was too alive to the knowledge that I had to return to the hated neighbourhood next day.
I got up, ploded in, at 7:00, made it in time to catch the bus. And it wasn’t déja vu like you know it, like you’ve seen it before, like the filing cabinet feeling; it was the same, the same exactly as the day before: I sat in the same seat. The cars on the street were the same cars, the buildings we passed looked distressed as hell, just like they looked yesterday. The same people got on the bus – students, stun-faced workers, the same three strollers. And
Four stops before my stop, the couple with the mangy yellow dog got on.
“’Scuse the two of us,” she yelled, and they shoved through the crowd of us, and their dog slunk and wound through all the human-smelling legs.
“Speak for yourself, bitch,” he jeered.
“What’d you call me, asshole?”
“Called you a bitch.”
“You’re fuckin’ gonna answer for that, asshole.”
“I already did answer. I called you a bitch.”
“I’ll call the cops.”
“’I’ll call the cops,” he copy-whined.
I settled in for the ride, the ride and the rest of it, staring out at the hairline-cracked windows, the boarded up store fronts by the hundred, and the concrete stacks of apartments with their cramped, scurrilous rows of moldy balconies, like teeth rotting from neglect and from the sheer putridness of it all.
Rosalind Goldsmith lives in Toronto. She teaches literacy and is working on a collection of short stories.