Originally written November 4, 2006.
I used to see a man on the bus, semi-regularly. He was the type of good looking that’s so distinct and unique it takes you a while to realize he’s good looking. Were one molecule out of place, he could be just as easily be very odd looking. It’s a fine line between super model and freak-of-nature — gazelle and deformed. As it was, I decided he was very good looking.
He was black, with a shaved head, large wide set eyes and large lips (all almost disproportionately large), with a washboard forehead of wrinkles, just like mine, only more so. His eyebrows were such a distinguished shape, one might almost assume he waxed with a “smart man” stencil. His eyebrows alone made him look like he was thinking about something intelligent, and worrying just a little.
I remember drawing him while on the bus once. I don’t think he noticed, and I don’t think the drawing turned out well. But it burned his face into my mind. That happens when I draw things - like writing down a dream. It sticks.
I didn’t see him for a year or so. Maybe I got a new job. Maybe he did. I can’t remember. For some reason at least one of us wasn’t riding that bus anymore.
Then one day I saw a man who looked just like him. On the same bus. Wearing the same clothes and sporting the same washboard forehead.
He was identical in every way, but he didn’t seem like the same man. The other man — the pretty one — seemed shy, but laid back. Tired from a hard day’s work and ready to go home to relax with a glass of wine. This man looked scared and everything about his body language screamed, “Don’t look at me!” It really made him look like an entirely different man. I was almost sure he was. The thing is, there was no reason that anyone should have been looking at him. No one was. …Well, except for me, but I had always looked at him.
It was so clear in his body language. It felt as if people’s eyes were like laser beams that stung when they hit him. He kept flinching.
So, of course, this made me watch him all the more closely. If you scream, “Don’t look at me!!”, what do you expect people to do? At first I was only staring at him to figure out if he was the same man. Once I realized he was, I started staring at him to figure out why he had changed. I couldn’t get over that something was incredibly different about him. I mean, apart from his demeanor. Something about him had changed drastically, but I couldn’t place it.
We always transfer from that bus to the subway, and head downtown in the sea of morning zombies.
I piled out of the bus after him and I followed behind from bus to subway platform (Not purposely “following” him. That’s just the order in which we walked off the bus). …Even from behind, something was different about him. What?!
It took me the entire walk from bus to subway car to finally realize… his left arm was missing from the elbow, down. Armani suit arm, flapping in the subway breeze.
I’m SURE he had a left arm before. And once I finally noticed it, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why I hadn’t seen it before. It was right there! …or rather, it wasn‘t right there.
Imagine talking to someone who has a third eye, and not noticing until part way through the conversation. You’re brain just glitches and tells you that this is their face, and so this is what’s normal and to be expected for this person’s face. …Once you do notice it, it’s very shocking and jolting. It’s hard to shake off. It’s now a bull’s eye for your attention. It’s ALL you see.
He just didn’t seem like the type of man to be missing a limb. How strange that I thought there was a “type”. He always dressed in very sharp and expensive business attire, with very nice shoes (He always had nice shoes). For some reason you just don’t see such sharp, corporate men, walking around the business sector, missing arms or legs. Why is that? Tragedy doesn’t overlook the rich. In fact, tsunamis hit luxury resorts first! Why would I have assumed a rich man couldn’t be limbless??
It’s been a while since he’s ridden my bus.
Last night after work, I found myself on my regular, sardine-packed subway car, squished right up against, who else, but that stunning, sad, one-armed man. I was there the entire ride, until he got off at his new stop. So he had moved. His back was turned to me. Eyes-to-shoulder blades (I’m very short).
For some reason, I couldn’t help but take it personally.
I wanted to hug him. …No, actually, it wasn’t a hug. I wanted to lean on him. Have you ever had a big dog like a German Shepherd stand next to you and just lean into you, for comfort and security? That’s what I wanted to do. I could have just slowly sunk into his back.
For a moment I thought about looking for the glint of a wedding ring, but then I remembered… well, it would have been on his left arm.
People don’t talk to each other in Toronto. We probably won’t ever have a conversation, even if I do ever see him again. I’ll probably just always be that girl from the bus who stares at him when he’s not looking, while he pretends that he’s not looking.