Call me Cain if you are able. Oftentimes, I am distressed by the state of the country and have no desire to remain on its tarnished soil soaked in the blood of cowardice, oppression, stupidity, and life. When these moods strike, I have looked for anything and everything to stave off the desire to run into Times Square grabbing each person by the top of the ear, putting my lips in their ear canal, and yelling, “this is not real!” However, to avoid doing that, I have chosen to take off to sea.
Although it is not my first choice, there is something to be said of the majesty of a world beyond Twitter and CNN. I find this removal just what I need. The water provides the canvas for man to think. What man, woman, or child is unable to think of things previously unthought but by the water?
However, to say I had experience at sea would be like saying the ego of Kanye or Kardashian could fit easily fit into the Atlantic. Thought what I lacked in experience at sea, I made up for experience in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For I do not believe in life as merely a matter of moments one following the next, but, instead, life is a contemplation of existence reserved for those who dare to try understand its unreliable and impregnable mystery. It is the search and love for ideas, which give life the meaning it is so inherently after, and, it is in this life, this life devoid of ideas and the search for them, only a google search of uncertainty, that I wish to escape.
So I set forth on my journey. I had purchased my ticket only a week ago, and I was so excited for the journey I arrived an hour early. Unfortunately the bus did not show up until twenty minutes before departure, so I waited in the cold until it arrived. I let out a squeal as it pulled into the parking lot startling my other prompt passengers and reminding me I was not the only one to be on the bus. I turned in my bags, and I went to check in with my printed ticket. The bus driver checking everyone in was scary. She had a permanent scowl on her face that read like Dante’s ninth circle of hell, frozen with a misunderstood evil beneath. It seemed she looked at my ticket longer than any of the others, of course it could have been simply paranoia, but she seemed to doubt my ticket was valid. This might not seem strange for those who have the money to travel by plane, where security is part of the journey, but when you travel by bus, there is no name for the reservation only numbers that indicate money has been paid. Therefore, the unwarranted and unsettling suspicion made my stomach clench in panic of imagined guilt.
I made my way to the second floor of the double decker and found a seat in the middle of the second floor. Even when I was a young student before I decided my schooling was done, I always sat in the middle. On the first day of school, the overachievers would crowd the front two rows for the teachers, while the mischievous colonized the back thinking it would increase their ability to avoid detection. Of course, that was never the case. Just like the overachievers knew to sit in the front and the rabble-rousers knew to sit in the back, the teacher knew the overachievers desired the front and the rabble-rousers desired the back and planned his or her classroom accordingly. However, the teacher, like most students, neglected the middle because in the middle ground your existence easily dissipates among those in the front and back. You may or may not do your work for the teacher, but you will go unnoticed. If you need further proof, just look at the moderates who incline themselves to political office and draw zero headlines – extremity is the temper of the day. And, extremity is the destruction of man.
Settling in nicely to my seat, I unfolded my book to read, but, lo, I could not read just yet. There was an unsettling anticipation in the air. I could not place my finger on the cause, but something was afoot. So I watched passenger after passenger seat his or herself aboard the vessel, and I was struck by the connectivity of them all. Each person boarded had a phone clasped to his or her ear, unless of course he or she had the money for a Bluetooth device, so they could keep their hands free to log on to a computer. This reverie did not last long as I came to understand the true nature of my fear. I would not be sitting alone.
The passengers who did not find it prudent to arrive early started to acquaint themselves with strangers for the prized realty of seats. Although the bus was scheduled to leave in less than seven minutes, I knew luck would make sure I had none of it, but instead a passenger. It was menacing. To avoid someone to sit next to you, you must look far off and aloof to indicate you do not want anyone to sit by you and that you are not a person someone would want to sit next to. However, it is nearly impossible to keep your eye off the door and stairs to not see who enters and if they are looking to share your space.
I also began to wonder if I should concede my fortified area to a stranger of my choice. Not that I am particularly judgmental, but it is hard to not want to avoid certain people as common passengers. No one wants to sit next to those who smell, especially in the small confined area of a bus because the stench is unbearable, and, with windows that don’t open, inescapable. No one wants to sit next to the woman with her baby in her arms – watching breastfeeding rips sexuality from a man’s loins, much the way a birthing video does a woman’s. Nor did I want someone particularly chatty. Making small talk with those you don’t know is excruciatingly painful, but to do it for hours upon end is insufferable. Yet I wonder, where does this desire to talk come from? Why must people talk to hear their own voices? Even the digitized voices of twitter and instagram are constantly yelling look at me and what I have to say. Did it ever occur to someone that it is not interesting? I often wonder if Thomas Jefferson had lived in the age of twitter and instagram would he have found use for them? Rarely, did that contradiction of man silence his voice or his pen. Maybe the bigger question at hand is whether or not people would follow the pontificator of freedom and expansion with so many other options?
At last, I resigned myself to stay aloof as we were within two minutes of departure. Although I can’t really judge the length of a second as all time is relative, I tried to countdown the final two minutes, so I would know when I was safe from companionship. Only a minute remained and excitement started to roll around my head and my fists clenched in anticipation. Oooh, only thirty seconds left, I can taste the solitude. Ten seconds. God damnit!
“Do you mind if I sit with you?” asked my companion to be.
“No not at all.” But of course I did. If my charitable Christian background did not exist, I wonder if I would have even agreed to allow this man to sit, if I would have had the stones to say, “I do mind, sir, find yourself elsewhere to sit.” Or if this man lacked Muslim propriety would he have said what he truly meant instead of forming it in a question. It seems as if all of mankind is constricted from what it really wants to say.
When I first agreed to the man sitting down, I paid little attention to his dress and character as I wrestled with the unhappiness brewing inside. After he settled himself into the seat and opened his book. Fear grew within me starting at my heart and working to my brain. He was dressed in long flowing linens of a brownish, yellowish color. A stark white turban was on his head. What I could see of his arms appeared to be tattooed up the side with some sort of Arabic inscriptions? His beard was thick and full and it covered the lower half of his face in black shrubbery. His lightened, olive-browned skin accentuated the whites of his eyes and the browns of his pupils. Needless to say, I was scared shitless.
I never considered myself to be a man of judgment or a surface reader, who judges a book by its cover. However, this was indubitably the case since the attacks of September 11th. Like other Americans, I learned that fear of something different was legitimate fear, and I adopted this, even if only on a subliminal level. To make matters worse, the breath emanating out of the heathen’s mouth was deadly. It was a mix of onions and paprika with a burnt aftersmell. Although I may have feared the man, feared his race, I had to offer the breathmints I had if I were to make it to Pittsburgh alive and not dead of affixation.
“Would you like an Altoid?”
The man gave me a severe look as he reached into my outstretched hands and plucked two Altoids. His expression softened as he began to chew and bite into the Altoids. A man after my own heart! He knows one will not suffice, and he must take two! But, why, oh why, is he devouring them so quickly. Does it not hurt his mouth? This man is mad. The more he chews the more of a smile grows on his face as if he likes the pain, or maybe this is a scare tactic. I have to look away to avoid the overbearing face of the man. I can’t help being intrigued by who this man is despite his horrid breath and menacing ingestion of peppermint Altoids.
For the first hour of the trip, I focus all my energies on avoiding contact and reading my book, well not so much reading as flipping the pages at the appropriate time to turn the pages – many people cower behind their cell phones in awkward situations, but, to those of us recently out of containment and lacking any type of funding, must use a book. The whole time I fidgeted with the pages of my book, my bus-fellow sat with his eyes closed in a meditative state. I would have thought he was sleeping, but his breathing was not that natural rhythm of a man in slumber. Rather, his breathing seemed to be a controlled and unrepetitive symphony channeling through thoughts and oxygen.
Finishing my book, well at least finishing turning the pages, I decided if we were to continue on this bus for the remaining trip, we were to at least be on friendly terms.
“You can call me Cain and what may I call you, sir?”
Unstartled (I knew he had not been asleep), he looked over evaluating the sincerity of my introduction while analyzing the intent of my conversation. Seemingly satisfied with my intentions, his hand grabbed mine with a firm handshake and said, “I am Jamshed” in a middle-eastern accent I could not place.
There was an awkward silence for a minute or two as neither one of use knew what the next thing to say was. Then, I thought it easiest to simply ask him where he was from.
“I come from Karachi. It is a large city in Pakistan . . .