The Man on the Bus

by Keira Louis

Vancouver buses are like any other public buses in Western countries.  A little bit more advanced, though, I feel. There’s an electronic screen that displays the name of the upcoming stop to prepare passengers for disembarkation, something Brisbane buses could really benefit from! The stops are also announced in advance by a recorded voice for the visually impaired. All in all, a hassle free bus ride anywhere around Vancouver!

But some things remain the same, including the people. You get happy passengers, you get grumpy passengers. You get mothers with children in strollers, the elderly in wheelchairs or with walking sticks, drunken passengers who don’t have any money on them, teenagers off to meet their friends downtown, professionals communting to and from work, aswell as physically and mentally disabled passengers.

And then you get the passengers that are just wanting to talk to someone. You know the ones.  I’m sure you’ve avoided making eye contact with them once or twice so you didn’t have to engage in conversation with them.  We’re all guilty of it. Even me. But the other day, I decided to accept the offer of conversation by a lone adult male on my bus and I’m really glad I did.

The conversation made such an impact on me that I remembered it almost word for word, and had to write it down and share it with you. It reminds us that sometimes we can judge a person too early on in a relationship and we don’t give people the chance they deserve. I learnt a lot from this stranger, in more ways than one.

Before you read, picture an adult male in his mid to late 40s. Mentally, he is quite intelligent but slow to process information. He reminds you of an excited 5 year old boy who is still struggling to pronounce words and string sentences together smoothly but is trying with all his might. His eyes are wide with excitement and intrigue, and a slight lisp can be heard when he speaks. It is as if he has learnt things from his teacher and has committed them to memory to recite at a later date. This is the man I met on Monday.

STRANGER:    Hi there!
KEIRA:        Hi.
S:        Do you have any experience working with disabled people?
K:        Not so much, no.
S:        Not so much? Ok, well I’m disabled.
K:        Right….
S:        I have adult autism.
K:        Ok…
S:        And one of the things people with adult autism are known for is that they’re good with numbers. I’m good with numbers, I am. But another thing that they’re  known for is that they have dreams and fantasies.
K:        Ok….
S:        I have dreams and fantasies. I discuss them with my therapist because he is trained to discuss them with me. But sometimes I feel like discussing them outside of therapy.  My therapist says I can do this but I have to ask people if they feel comfortable listening to me discuss them. I have all different types of fantasies but don’t worry, I never ever discuss sexual fantasties. My therapist says this is isn’t polite.
K:        Right.
S:        So how do you feel about listening to my dreams?
K:        Um, I’m not so sure about that. And I have to get off soon.
S:        What suburb are you in?
K:        I don’t know. I just know the stop number.  I’m new here.
S:        Ok, well I’ll be brief. I’ll make it brief.  I sometimes have monetary dreams. I dream that I’m getting a large amount of money. Let’s just say….let’s just say it’s about half of what Bill Gates earns. That’s a polite way of putting it, wouldn’t you say? I know you shouldn’t discuss money so would you say that’s a polite way of saying it’s a large amount of money?

(He looks at K for a reply)

K:        Yes, definitely.
S:         I think so. So that’s what I dream about. That’s a lot of money.
K:        Yes, it is.

(S thinks. While he thinks his right arm crosses his body and his left hand comes up to his face. He runs his pointer finger slowly over his face from right to left.)

S:        (After a slight pause) So where are you from?
K:        Australia.
S:        Australia? What part of Australia?
K:        Queensland.
S:        Queensland……
K:        Brisbane?
S:        Where’s that near? Sydney or Melbourne?
K:        (with a grin, everyone knows Sydney and Melbourne!) It’s north of Sydney.
S:        Oh, ok. Is it a country town?
K:        (grins again) No, it’s a city. It’s QLD’s capital city.
S:        Is it on the beach?
K:        It’s on the coast and it’s about an hour to the beach north or south.
S:        Hmmm. (S resumes thinking pose again) 90% of Australians live on the water.
K:        Is that right?
S:        Mm hm.

(Pause. Silence)

S:        Just because I dream about lots of money, doesn’t mean I’m actually going to get it, but I might. But if I had that much money, I would just like to live in Mt  Pleasant [an area in Vancouver]. I don’t like to live materialistically. I’d rather travel. Or volunteer. That’s where I’ve just come from. I’m doing job training and I volunteer there too.
K:        That’s great.

(Pause. Silence)

S:        Well have a nice day.
K:        You too.

(S doesn’t make to move. There is more silence, then..)

S:        Do I come across to you as just a tiny bit lonely?
K:        (shocked, feeling awkward, K shrugs) Umm, I –
S:        Well I am. I am lonely.
K:        (more awkward) Oh…
S:        Most people who are lonely will approach strangers and talk to them, like I’m doing with you. If a stranger came up to me and started  talking to me, I’d think  that they were lonely. Yeah, I’d say they were lonely.
K:        (lost for words, nods)

(S stands up to get off the bus)

S:        (Genuinely) Should we know each other by first name or just by face?
K:        (Smiles) Umm…
S:        (Raises hands defensively) Ok, just by face for now. Just by face.

(S walks to back door of bus and stands ready to disembark. K calls out after him)

K:        Have a lovely day.

(S doesn’t respond, focused on not missing his stop. He hops off the bus)

So next time you catch a bus and avoid the person trying to talk to you, remember the man I met on the bus on Monday!

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “The Man on the Bus

  1. Ken

    What a wonderful piece of writing Keira – it sounds like it was a moving but initially quite apprehensive experience – well done darling !!

  2. Gail

    Thanks for this lovely piece of writing. It made me get tears in my eyes. As you know! I always talk to people on buses and trains and I can’t remember the last time I didn’t make eye contact…but I know lots of people don’t cross this line…they won’t even talk to me! Still the world is a better place when people are brave, take time to listen, to talk, to share conversation…so thank you for sharing this conversation…it lifted my spirits…

    • Keira

      Hi Gail – I’m glad this story lifted your spirits. I had tears in my eyes when I got off the bus! It’s funny the things that impact you sometimes…. Hope you’re well.

  3. Uncle Steve

    Keira.

    I agree with your dad. You write beautifully. Such great storytelling – timing, sensitivity, humour.
    In fact you and Adam both keep me feeling that I’ve left my run too late. You are both naturals. Keep posting these stories. I love them.

    • Keira

      Thanks, Steve. Your blog and writing is also great, we’re really enjoying it! What better time to start than the present!
      It’s funny, though. I didn’t really write my story – I simply recorded a conversation I had and it read well, I guess!

  4. Di Fitz

    That you took the time to document this experience , really affirms your respect for that man and humanity in all it’s diversity Keira. Great for all of us to read and reminds us all not to block out someone else’s child, brother etc… love Di

  5. Miranda

    Hi Keira. You write so well I can picture the whole incident very easily. This reminds me of The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-time. Lots of people have read it, but if you haven’t, I recommend it : )

  6. Keira

    Thanks, Miranda. Yes, I have read The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-time and really enjoyed it. It really helps you understand the traits of autism. Hope all is well with you 🙂

  7. Dear Keira
    I’m behind by a couple of months but still wanted to say how much this story also touched me. Thanks for sharing this special experience – we can all learn from it.
    What a beautiful girl you are and a great story!
    Love you Mally

  8. Hi! I was trying to read my sister’s blog, frogandtoadtogether, but accidentally came to your blog instead. Funny thing is, your writing reminds me of theirs, although your vocabulary is easier to understand. I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading your blog! Very entertaining! I especially love the llama pictures! LOL!

    • keiralouis

      Wow, I only just saw your comment now on April 19, 2012! Thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Cheers, Keira

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