I took my book from my bag and flipped through it checking things I knew and skimmed over things I knew I wouldn’t take in at the last moment, trying to make my mind work faster than normal….”
by christine tothill
He was sitting opposite me, his legs crossed, a newspaper on his lap. He looked mucky, sort of dirty but not so. The man stayed still, not reading, not looking out the window and not looking at me. I was glad of that.
I started late that morning, missed the earlier bus; ran and saw it going from the stop – my friends waving their fists at me from the back, laughing. It wasn’t funny. I had an exam first thing.
His paper was opened at the job section; red circles around little squares. I couldn’t see what they said upside down. What he might have wanted to do or was after. I thought perhaps he was an accountant because his nose was long and his glasses were old fashioned – big with round frames. Perhaps he was a labourer, looking for something part time or some sort of kitchen work downtown. He wouldn’t be wearing a suit and a shirt with a bright yellow tie would he? No, he was just a middle-aged man about thirty or so looking for a job, without a car and wearing an old fashioned tie.
He made me look at him, ‘Hey, it’s, me, little old me, I won’t harm you, just take some notice,’ he seemed to put out, in my direction. He kept crossing and uncrossing his legs, fidgeted all the time. The way women do sometimes when nervous – pulling down skirts, straightening hems. He seemed like that. Weird or what?
When I looked straight at him, in his eyes, he had them shut. That surprised me because I hadn’t noticed before. I thought I could see them open because his glasses were smeary and of course not for one moment did I know if he had his eyes shut or not. Must be tired. Can’t be blind, not with that newspaper on his lap, folded up, turned over and facing him with those red rings.
I took my book from my bag and flipped through it checking things I knew and skimmed over things I knew I wouldn’t take in at the last moment, trying to make my mind work faster than normal for this time of the morning.
‘Shut the fuck up,’ he said.
At first I thought it wasn’t him as he looked just the same, no movement or anything. Nothing to show it was him. It certainly wasn’t the old lady next to me. She tutted to herself.
‘I can’t think if you mutter like that,’ he said. ‘I need to concentrate on things; you’re not the only one on the bus.’
‘So?’ I said. ‘I can mutter if I like, in fact I can sing and dance too.’
‘Not if you are learning biology you can’t.’
‘Was I really talking that loud?’
‘You got it in the wrong order anyhow,’ he said. ‘Look up the right chapter and remember the order.’
The man was a geek, a crazy man. He was real weird.
He stayed quiet and so did I. The old woman got off the stop before the college. I got ready to press the bell but he stood first. He put his paper under his arm and walked to the door, pressed the button.
We walked together to the college. He told me he was taking exams. He said he needed more to do with his life.
‘I think you’re a weirdo,’ I said, moving away from him.
‘I think you are.’
‘Wasting years on learning when you could be living them.’ He threw his newspaper into a bin.
‘You have to,’ I said. ‘Normal isn’t it? Learning when young? Working when older? Making money.’
‘I did it the other way round. Made a life for myself. Got a job without any experience; saw the world.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘You have a point.’
‘Exactly.’ He stood and took his glasses off. His eyes were the bluest I had ever seen. ‘Try it. I dare you.’
‘Right now. Go off on your own, get a bus to anywhere, work anywhere, do anything and then come back home and learn.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Me?’ He smiled. ‘I used to be Mr Nobody. Now I’m Mr Somebody.’
He turned into the Science Block and walked quickly away from me. Before he went through the door, he hesitated, looked back at me and pointed to the bus stop. ‘Go,’ he said.
(illustrations: dee sunshine)
Christine Tothill is British and lives in Spain. She writes short fiction, flashes and articles. Christine has published work in UK and Spain. She writes with Alex Keegan’s online Boot Camp and plays the organ in any other spare time she has, which is hardly ever. More from Christine Tothill can be found in the Vault of Smoke.