The old man took deliberate steps towards me. He brandished a length of polished wood, like the leg of a table, using it for a cane. His orthopedic shoes and flat-topped Stetson gave him a harmless air, but the way he made direct eye contact from behind his wire-framed bifocals left me checking for escape routes. Not for the first time in my life I wished for a “NO SOLICITATION” tattoo on my forehead.
"Is the next bus coming soon?" He paused in front of me at the bus stop where I was waiting for the 49 with several other riders. I sought out an ally--literally any other person waiting for the bus with us--but no one was looking up from their slush-covered boots or out of their scarf-wrapped hoods.
Though I'm not a professional bus tracker, I nodded. "Yep, should be about five minutes." It seemed like a good guess. All I wanted to do was take a breather after work, wait for the bus in peace, and go home for dinner. I wasn't trying to engage in conversation. The only people who make small talk really just want me to: subscribe to a magazine, join their bank, join their church, join their gym, or allow them to linger in my personal space far longer than is normal or comfortable for me.
He took a few more steps and turned around to face me, but didn't say anything. I could feel his gaze, though perhaps he was looking at something past me. I didn't want to check, instead opting to keep him in my peripheral. People get robbed when they let their guards down, and this man was already giving me weird vibes.
He came closer and I pulled my purse to the front of my body. "Could you tell me the time?" he asked.
I checked my phone. "It's 7:13." Did he only ask so he could see where I put my phone? I slipped it into my jacket pocket and kept my hand in there with it.
Again he did his few steps away, turn, few more steps back maneuver. Now he was in my personal space. I leaned away, willing the bus to show up.
"And you said the bus would come when?"
I was annoyed. We were already waiting--the bus comes when it comes--and again, I'm not a bus tracker. I had checked online before I left work to get a vague idea of how fast I would have to walk to the bus stop, but there's no telling what kind of delays/traffic a Western bus will face on a weeknight. "Well," I took a step back, "the last time I checked, it was coming at 7:17."
He smiled at me, unfazed. "And you said it's what time?"
When the bus pulled up, I checked through the windows for empty seats. The queue formed at the door, but didn't move. The Clockless Wonder stood at the front, nearly bowing as he motioned for me to get on first. I smiled and boarded. Spotting a few empty rows in the back half of the bus, I quickly sat down. He took a spot in the reserved area. I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding and closed my eyes. Another day, another awkward interaction, another reminder to bring headphones with me when I go out in public.
|"Please Go Away." T-shirt courtesy of St. Norbert College's study abroad program, but also effective as a weirdo repellent.|