by Marsha Barrett
It was 2:00 Sunday morning, and I was catching a Greyhound bus home to Maryland after attending a dinner in New York City. The bus was parked deep inside New York City’s Port Authority Terminal, a large subterranean building on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street.
I had no car; I took a lot of public transportation. In my travels, I had met many interesting people who told me of their lives and I was always surprised by their complexities.
A young man sat next to me. He was a bundle of energy and verve from the moment he choose the seat. He rearranged his bag several times, talking all the while. He had shaved his head bald and wore a gold earring. He was probably 5’11”, trim, muscular, and dressed in a dark sweatshirt and jeans. In a constant stream of conversation, he talked freely with me about his personal life as if he were friends with the whole world. In less than two minutes he suggested we get together.
So, you dating anyone?”
“So, maybe you and me should get together.”
I smiled and said, “I don’t think so.”
“Hey, older women are great, you know, all those hormones,” he smiled.
I laughed and said, “So, I’ve heard. Thanks for the offer but I want more than sex.”
“Oh yeah, like relationship and intimacy,” he said.
“Yeah,” I laughed, “like that, those are some nice words.”
Internally, I sighed, staring at a seemingly intelligent, healthy, young man. I wondered ‘What age do you live in, sir? Have you ever heard of AIDS? It’s pandemic. One in 200 young adults in the United States is infected with HIV according to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Approximately 21 million people worldwide are infected. By comparison, the 14th century’s bubonic plague killed about 25 million people. Deaths from HIV will exceed that number.’ Visions of a decimated population filled my mind.
Was he playing the numbers game–ask every woman you meet and hope for a hit? All my life, I had heard men used this approach. I wondered about their ability to adapt. Men, who played the numbers game in the age of AIDS, were courting their own death. I speculated that males suffered from a mind-body disconnection where their logical mind did not communicate with their libido.
He offered me all of his food, several bags of corn chips, potato chips, and candy bars. I declined. I watched as he wolfed down the chips.
“Are you hungry?” I asked.
I offered him one of my sandwiches. He took it, but before he ate it, he asked “You’re not trying to poison me, are you?” He stared at my face looking for telltale signs of madness. He opened the sandwich and eyed it suspiciously.
“No,” I said, “It’s a bologna and cheese with mustard.”
He was thirty-three. He told me now, he was thinking he should settle down and get married.
“Know what you want or you’ll get what you don’t want,” I said.
“I want a woman who isn’t smarter than I am, I’m telling you the truth. I want her to laugh at my jokes and accept me as I am,” he said.
He was a contradiction. He was ready one minute for a quick liaison, then talking of future marriage plans the next. He said he worked in construction. He built and repaired bridges and his voice was hoarse from yelling all day. He talked of his apartment and how he regretted getting all black lacquer bedroom furniture. It collected dust easily. He liked things to be clean and dust did not look clean.
And he talked of pizza, and who made it best. “Hey, what do you expect? I’m Italian”, he explained.
As we talked, he joked, and we laughed. I was intrigued. He was so verbal. This was a novel experience, few men I had met or known were as open and talkative. He questioned me about my marriage and my divorce.
Why I hadn’t been involved with anyone in the years since my divorce? he asked. I was again struck by the intimacy of his questions. The bus was dark and quiet. The tall, upholstered seats created a sense of seclusion, muffling everyone’s voices. Before I answered, I pondered the phenomenon of strangers sharing personal information.
On the bus up to New York City, a young South African selected the seat next to me. I looked nice, he said. He was anxious. He faced 24 more hours of travel before he returned home. He had been visiting his fiancée in the West.
All Americans think of is money, he said. He seemed naive. He clutched a religious inspirational book and told me he met the book’s author. Pointing to the author’s picture, he smiled at the memory and said, “I met him. He’s tall. He’s someone you can really look up to.”
I remembered the Blackfoot Indian boy I met on the train on the way to South Carolina last summer. He was beautiful; his dark lashes framed wide dark eyes set in a young, open face. He was fifteen and had ulcers. He had been a juvenile delinquent and now worked for a family as a babysitter. He was going to visit his father.
We played cards through South Carolina. He toyed with his food, making up games with it, claiming he’d never grow up.
None of my former seatmates had asked me such personal questions as this young Italian did as he inquired about my dating habits. I told him what I thought was the truth. I still loved my ex-husband. That silenced him for about two seconds.
Later, when he learned I didn’t have a television or a stove, he cracked up. “How come you don’t have a stove?” he asked.
I’d bought a house that was a handyman special, a house that needed work. I had to gut the kitchen and only had enough money to refinish one half.
“Don’t tell me, you got a refrigerator and a sink instead of a stove,” he grinned. I nodded.
“No wonder you can’t get a guy. A man wants a channel clicker and food,” he advised. I chuckled. He had a point, but the man I was looking for would want something more. I didn’t know if such a man existed anywhere but in my mind.
“No TV, no stove,” he giggled and fell back against the seat laughing.
I laughed too, and said, “You’re probably right, but it wouldn’t help if I got a stove because I can’t cook.” We laughed until we cried. He fell asleep against my shoulder.
Originally from Silver Spring, MD, she lives in Mérida, México in Yucatán. She is a writer/editor, web/desktop publisher and an avid bollywood fan. Professionally, she prepared marketing materials for research reports and maintained the department website. As a former typesetter, she wrote a typesetting manual, marketing and lesson materials for clients. In her previous writing group, she read her slice-of-life stories. Now, besides writing monthly Bollywood movie reviews for her blog email@example.com, she is exploring micro-business marketing, teaching English, and working on a novel, plus there’s a screenplay living in her head.
Painting: Juan Pablo Bavio – detail from COMPLICIDAD