“I can sit on the floor but I have to get on this bus; I’ve got to make it to work tomorrow!”, a woman in her forties blurted. I had just boarded a bus from downtown Columbus, Ohio. Apparently, there was one less seat on the bus than the number of tickets sold; ridiculous. Thankfully, there was one seat ‘reserved’ for an extra driver in case the journey was a long one and two drivers were needed (this is what fellow passengers concluded). So no one had to sit on the floor and we were on our way; albeit after a good 30 minutes delay.
As soon as we hit the interstate, the guy sitting next to me started chatting. At first I was responsive and for a very brief while even actively talking on neutral topics. The guy was originally from Germany, now settled in the US. When I told him I am from India, there was an approving smile on his face. Soon he got talking about our different cultures, customs, religions, economies and what not!
To start with, he asked me if I had read the Quran and Bible. Me not being familiar with either of the books beyond the generally believed ideologies, he started explaining his understanding of the Quran and then later tried to show me a parrallel between the two books in some aspects. I tried not to express my views about religion, God or the disbelief in either of these. Later when he started digging deep into what I felt or what I followed I didn’t attempt to lie.
Realising my lack of enthusiasm in discussing religious ideologies, he turned to customs and traditions. He spoke about how the younger generation in the US is not as disciplined as some other cultures, how the parents are to be solely blamed for this and that they set very loose ideals for the kids by themselves leading an overly casual life. Now by this time, the ladies sitting across the aisle were glancing occasionally toward us because the man was getting rather loud in his own excitement. Long ago I had tried to indicate my total lack of interest in talking; his pea-brain simply did not register this.
Somewhere along the line, his friend from Nepal popped up in the conversation. This friend had told him a lot about the lifestyle in the subcontinent and had somehow brainwashed him into believing that the western world was all crap and that he needs to adopt a more ‘natural’ way of life. Now our German friend was getting hyper. At first there was an occasional crap, shit, fuck (which got stiff glances from the older ladies) but soon his language turned into something that would make a sailor shy! I mean, now he was getting all gung-ho about how the world is going crazy, there is chaos everywhere and shit. I was looking outside the window on the other side.
Finally, I took out my cell to call someone more sane. After a couple of unanswered and ‘busy’ calls, it felt nice to hear someone on the other side (Mitali, you saved the day! And Gubby you should throw your cell in the drain!). I was explaining my situation to her by describing everything in Marathi for obvious reasons. So “toh manus, jyane khup lokanna trass dila, tyacha mule vishwa yudha zhali” (the man who tortured a lot of people and because of whom world wars broke out) was answered with a laughing “Hitler” and so she figured our friend was a German. After a little fun this way describing the Holy Books, religions, customs and everything he was blabbering about in a cryptic (and totally comic) way she was now sympathetic! I have to admit it was fun though!
As soon as I was done with the call he got chatting again; this guy was totally unbelievable! I somehow got him to stay quiet by pretending my head was aching and I was going to try to get some shut eye. Before long, I called my friend in Indy to make sure he was coming to pick me up at downtown and to tell him I was running late. Our friend requested to make a call to someone from my phone to pick him up. Honestly, for a minute I considered being a jerk but asked him to go ahead and dial instead. He took out his wallet to fish out the number. No one picked up. He told me he was calling his sister to pick him up and that she was so careless to leave her cell lying somewhere. Then he went on to show me his wife’s photo and said that she would have come to pick him up without him having to call.
I guess I missed the exact sequence of his jibber-jabber but somewhere along he told me how he considered his wife and children to be the negative forces in his life (I know it sounds contradictory but hey the guy had lost it!). According to some of his newly studied literature he needed to get rid of all the negative forces in his life and so he was going to do just that! The guy even told me the exact date – 3rd August!
Now everything was falling in place – this guy had previously asked me about the cost of living in India and Nepal. I have to admit it was entertaining though – “So do you think if I had 600 of this American money in cash and went to India, would I be rich there? Can a guy live like a king in 600 bucks a month?” I didn’t even have to convert the currency to bring him down to mother earth and break it to him that what he was hoping to live off was kind of what an average middle class earned in the city!” Then again, he reminded me that he was going to ‘wash his hands off’ his wife and children and move alone to another place. I gave up. He even ran some really weird concepts by me like “the banks there are also bad – if they realise you work outside and bring in all your money here and live off it and then go out again to earn and bring in money, they’ll just close your account and take away all your money!” I wasn’t even going to try to get him on track with this one! I just said a semi “not really” for fear that any stronger denial and the guy would go on to present a full defense of his research!
Sometime toward the end he started a totally new thread of conversation. He asked, “have you served time, any time? you know, just the minor stuff even?” Before I could answer he continued, “It’s not as bad in prison you know… they serve you food – three square a day, you can build your body all day long, read paper, play ball… and you know what’s the kick of it – it’s all tax money!” Beautiful, I wondered! I asked him what he went in for and he said, “Well, this was some time ago, for battery..beat up my girlfriend..” (I had absolutely no reaction to give!) “..nah, just kiddin’! I was just hanging out with a friend of mine.. you know just roaming the country and we were doing crazy stuff and then he asked if I wanted to smoke – not the usual stuff though..” (I’m thinking may be drugs?! wtf!) “..I was like hell ya and..” (I was still trying to digest the fact that I’m sitting in a bus next to a guy who’s been in prison?! so I kind of missed some details in between) “..and man that ******-****** turns out to be a CI – confidential informant and I’m busted..” (Great! This just doesn’t get any better!) “..but I’ve done my time..” I didn’t care to listen to the words trailing off after that.
After getting down at Indy he was almost rejoicing with hands waving in the air in a ‘yeah, this is it’ manner. As I headed inside the bus station the guy looked at me and nodded as if to say ‘come on, let’s go’… (yeah, sure, why not!) I just ignored him for the last time.