a short story
Getting a seat on the bus used to be a random affair; that is, until she missed her usual bus and was forced to take the air conditioned bus Number 48. Arunee used to shuffle her way towards the back after boarding the bus, where the chances of getting a seat were higher by the sheer proportion of seats to passengers; but now she found that she preferred to sit at the front, where she could see the road.
I´m sorry madam, I didn´t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. It´s just that after all these years, I feel that I know you already. I have told you things I haven´t told anyone, not a soul.
Since changing to Number 48 several years ago, Arunee found that she was able to-sit for the greater part of the journey, and as a result, was less tired. She had an almost regular seat in the front now, right next to the driver. Although the price of the air conditioned bus was almost double the red buses, she knew she was no longer a young chicken and should not exhaust herself before getting to work. She inhaled less smog as well, although the smell of garlic on some mornings made her stomach churn.
Aaa, you look surprised. I know you are thinking that we´ve hardly exchanged a word over the last three years, except for the odd hello or excuse me. But in my mind, between the bus stop and my office, we have conversed at length and in depth. Ho ho — you think I´m soft in the head? At one point I doubted my sanity too; so I checked with my brother who is a doctor. He reassured me that I only have to worry about my mind when I start talking to myself out loud.
She would make up for the extra cost of the bus by forfeiting her orange drink at lunchtime. Some of her friends who worked with her chided her for becoming “posh”, but she knew better than them, she had her priorities right. After all, if she became ill from exhaustion like poor old Daeng, what good would come of her scrimping? No work meant no food and certainly no orange drink.
I used to get off at the stop after my real stop, I mean the stop in front of my office, and walk back about ten minutes. That way I could stay on until you got on, you see.
She thought for a moment about old Daeng, who was now being looked after by her granddaughter and her husband. She was fortunate to have such relatives. Arunee tried to stop her mind from asking but it was to late: who would look after her if she got sick?
You mustn´t thank me for the seat, really. In fact, I must thank you for allowing me to be of some service. You see, my life had reached a turning point around the day we first met. I had been working very hard at that time, in fact that was why I had overslept and overshot my stop; then I was about to jump up and rush off when I looked up and saw you, standing serenely with your back straight and your eyes looking calmly ahead, like the resolute captain on a lazy sea.
She shook her head and looked around her, trying to find something else to think about. Her bus was late again this morning. She saw a stray dog sprawled out under the new plastic chairs of the bus stop and studied its body for signs of life.
. And then when I stood, and you looked at me with those peaceful eyes, and I moved to the left, and you moved to your . left, and when we both stepped forward at the same time, it was as if we were performing a dance. You think I exaggerate but sincerely, it was like a ritualistic dance, and as you sat down and I made my way to the exit, I felt light and peculiar, a bit like when you know you´ve forgotten something but you can´t quite remember what.
At least as an employee of the hospital she could get some discount on medicines, should she need any. And even if she was fired, she knew she could lay her hands on the drugs at a reasonable price. Over the course of their careers in cleaning the hospital, they had all learnt about the invisible supply routes which coursed through the corridors and into the streets. Oh yes, she chuckled to herself, more relieved than amused. She had learnt a thing or two about medicine.
So ever since that day, I´ve tried to take the same bus and sit in the same seat. Some days I´m unlucky, but on those when I manage to give you my seat, I feel light all day long. I know my eagues and even my wife sometimes suspect that I´m having an affair, or hiding some good news about the lottery. Even the ticket conductor, that enormous woman, gives me a look of amusement these days. But whenever I see how curiously they look at me I start to giggle and my insides erupt in a feeling of goodness: how can I explain that all it takes to be happy is to give you my seat, my secret friend whose name I don´t even know? And it has helped me tremendously when I´ve had my ten-minute discussions with you between the stop and my office—it helps me to clear my mind and begin the day on a positive note.
she looked up and saw Number 48 in the distance. Thank goodness, she would not be too late. She .stood behind two junior high school students in their shocking pink shirts and waited for the bus to slow to a halt. The doors opened, and out flowed a stream of disembarking bodies. She was about to climb the first step when she noticed that someone was holding her arm, a man in a grey suit. She turned to face him angrily and saw he was smiling.
“What are you doing?” she cried.
“Madam, please excuse me, but do you not recognise
She looked at him blankly. The bus began to pull away. “You fool, I´ll miss my bus!” she rapped sharply, . and raced after it. She could not afford to miss this bus. She managed to leap aboard before it gathered speed. The stranger stood agape, watching the bus as it meandered into the streaming traffic.
Madam, may I have a moment? I just wanted to tell you that I won´t be able to give you my seat for much longer, for I am retiring soon…and I just wanted to tell you what a pleasure it has been to give you my seat and I thought that you would at least want to know my name. After all, I had always wanted to ask you yours…