The Inspiration Room]
There isn’t much to do, or even think about when waiting for a bus.
It would seem natural to strike up a conversation with the stranger next to you, who also doesn’t know what to do, or think about when waiting for a bus. But of course in situations like this, a quick conversation can seem futile, considering you only have approximately three minutes or so until the bus arrives. And even if you strike a sweet spot in conversation, you feel obligated to sit with this person for the entire bus journey and stretch out the one topic you have in common, when all you want to do is stick in your iPod ears and forget there are thirty-five other people surrounding you.
I decided not to take the plunge one day, although I did find myself falling into ‘the trap’ after I foolishly elongated an answer to a question where a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have met the requirements.
The plan was to meet my friends at Auckland University where we would look at the music shops around Auckland City. I left earlier because I needed to drop off an assignment at Massey University on the way. The bus arrived eight minutes late and as I stepped onto the bus, I wasn’t greeted by the bus driver. Instead he glared up at me as if I knew the drill, which luckily I did; otherwise he would have started shouting inaudible obscenities like a mad Italian chef.
‘Just one to Albany’ I said.
Rather than say anything, he just grunts and slams his thumb on a couple of buttons and the ticket comes out. As I turn to my right, I notice only one single seat is spare, and it was in the section of seats which face each other which means I’d be riding the bus backward.
I sat down and opposite me sat a dark girl (who looked to be Cambodian or somewhat) and next to her, an old man with a white, strangled beard who sat like a statue and stared at the wall behind me. I watched his slightly moistened lips, awaiting a small, stretchy drop of dribble to exit his mouth. His toes with squished toenails hung over the edge of his Velcro sandals. He wore long cobalt trousers, a faded ‘Corona’ T-shirt and an ugly-green vest and around his waist, he wore a black money bag that you would normally only see on tourists during their adventures at ‘Dreamworld’.
As free seats became available, the girl beside him quickly dispersed to the seat behind her. A few seconds later, another girl (who seemed to be her friend) sat beside her and before you knew it, the two were in deep conversation.
All was well at this point, until I yawned without covering my mouth. The old man’s eyes instantly shifted, staring down the dark cave of my mouth.
‘You tired, are you?’ he said.
I didn’t hear what he said because the pressure was still against my ears from the continued yawn.
‘Sorry?’ I replied.
‘You tired, are you?’
At this point, I could easily have answered ‘yeah’ but instead I said, ‘Yeah . . . I’ve just had few late nights lately.’
‘Oh’ he said surprisingly.
‘I never have late nights, usually in bed by ten at the latest.’
A short silence followed and I looked out the window as a sign to him that I wasn’t interested in pursuing a conversation. He didn’t pick up.
‘So where are you off to?’ he asks.
‘Uh Albany . . . yeah.’ I said.
This way I subconsciously let him know that I won’t be with him for the whole trip.
Thinking that the conversation had ended, he dives into a great spiel regarding where he’s from and where he’s going.
‘I’m off to Grey Lynn. Because that’s where I live’ he said with a voice clearly
too loud for a quiet bus ride.
‘I’ve just come from Wanaproa (he meant Whangaparaoa). One of my friends drop me off there yesterday morning, cos I needed to visit my lady friend’
While he talked, I watched bullets of spit being shot onto the seat next to me. ‘Oh ok’ I said.
I think he just wanted to boast that he could still score a ‘lady friend’ even at 75, or however old he was.
‘I’m having troubles with her though. She still lives with her mother you see and I say to her “I want to marry you, not your mother.” I mean, she’s twenny years younger than me too.’
I can’t help but smile on the outside and laugh on the inside. What would a 55-year-old woman want with a man like him? He realized that half the bus heard him say this so he began to quiet down his voice.
‘I don’t think she admires the fact that I live in a campground’ he said.
‘You live in a campground?’ I said in a concerned way. ‘How come you live in a campground?’
My attitude towards the man began to change. Obviously he had been going through some rough times.
‘Oh, well, I just don’t have much money. One of my friends owns the place so he lets me stay there for free. I heard that people steal from campgrounds but I’ve never had anything stolen.’
Even though the man seemed like he was from another planet, I became interested in the conversation and what he had to say.
‘So, what do you do?’ I asked.
‘Well, Sunday is the busiest day for me. In the morning I go to the Salvation army because they put on a free breakfast, in the afternoon I go to St Paul’s Church because they put on a free lunch, and at night I go to St Andrew’s Church because they put on a free dinner.’
Surely he wouldn’t go to church three times a day just so he could eat afterwards I thought.
‘So what makes you want to go to church?’ I asked him.
He began to think.
‘Well, there’s the free food and I guess it just gives me something to do.’
He said this in a way of an excuse. I could see that he actually enjoyed going to church but was afraid to admit it.
‘Oh, but Wednesday nights are busy too’ he said, changing the subject.
‘Why is that?’ I asked.
‘Well, my lady friend runs a spiritual meeting in Wanaproa (still not being able to pronounce Whangaparaoa) and I like to go along and see what the fuss is about.’
I could tell the way he said ‘spiritual’ was certainly not spiritual in a Christian sense.
‘Is that like mediums and stuff’ I ask.
‘Yeah, all that mumbo jumbo stuff. I just go cos she goes. And the food is good too.’
I could tell this guy was searching for some meaning.
‘So what do you do there?’ I asked.
‘Oh well, they do stuff with your hands and they talk about all this energy stuff. I don’t really like it.’ He replies.
By the sound of it, he really only went for his ‘lady friend.’ He jumped back to the topic of Church.
‘Have you been to St Matthew’s in the City?’
‘Na’ I replied.
‘Well, you know what kind of church that is, don’t you?’ he said alluding to the alleged homosexual aspects of the church.
‘Um . . . I guess’ I replied.
He chuckled to himself.
I arrived outside Massey and pushed the bell.
‘Well, it was nice talking to you’ I said.
We exchanged goodbyes and I hopped of the bus. When the bus departed, I looked inside and he was staring at the wall again.
I dropped off my assignment and caught the next bus to Britomart. There didn’t seem anywhere near as many people as before. I sat down and this time decided to listen to my iPod. Just as I put my ears in, my phone rang. It was my friend Matthew.
‘Yeah, so Rob’s class doesn’t finish till three and me and Lauren are at the Museum. Is it cool if we all meet up at uni and three?’
‘Yup that’s all good’ I said.
This meant I had a bit of spare time.
I arrived at Britomart and began to walk to Auckland University. I decided that I would visit the uni’s library to see what kind of books they had in regards to a World War II paper I was doing. I thought I may as well visit the common’s room to see if there was anyone I knew there. I admired the walk through Albert Park. I always love looking at New Zealand’s flora. I walked under the huge pohutukawa trees, just outside of bloom, shading the park benches. The wind would rush through creating a shower of a million string-like flower fragments which covered the ground after descending. I love the huge trees with tentacle roots that latched into the ground, and not to forget the tall palm trees attempting an imitation of the Sky Tower behind them.
As I exited Albert Park and began to walk around the university, I noticed St. Paul’s Church on the corner of Wellesley St and Symonds St. I remembered how the man on the bus said he goes there on a Sunday afternoon to get a free lunch, so I decided to walk up to a window to see if there was any advertisements for a free lunch on Sundays. I found none, although as I peered through the window, I noticed a man on his knees at the altar.
I peered closer and saw the man had a white beard and looked remarkably like the man I saw on the bus. I stood outside for a few minutes deciding whether or not to go into the church to see if it was him or not, just out of curiosity. I walked to the front of the church and the red, castle-like doors were already open. I walked in and instead decided just to stand in the entrance. It was definitely him. I knew that he didn’t just go for the food. From what I saw, there was certainly a sense of desperation in him.
I turned around and as I was walking out, I noticed a pink sheet of paper on the noticeboard which said ‘lunch is provided after 11:00am service on Sundays.’
‘Well, he wasn’t lying about the food,’ I thought to myself.
I walked to Auckland University’s library and found my way to the 940 section where the War books were kept. I sifted through looking for a book specifically on the Fall of France. I sat reading until I looked at my watch and it was 3:09 so I raced to the common’s room to meet my friends. As we walked to the music shops on Queen St, I told them the story of how crazy it was seeing the same guy on the bus in a church on the same day.
It’s crazy how things like this happen. I could tell that he didn’t just go to church for the food and I caught him out. I don’t know why he was hiding it in the first place. The only conclusion I could make was because his ‘lady friend’ was a medium. The funny thing is, after all of these events, I still don’t know his name.