surrounded by people
It’s 9.30 pm when I get to a trolleybus stop in the centre of the city. It’s dark and drizzling. Two people are shuffling about in the white light of a vitamin ad. One of them is missing an arm, the other has pupils so narrow his blue eyes look like empty fishtanks. They are clearly intoxicated, probably on drugs. I brace myself, but they are too busy discussing money and leave on the first bus.
Next, a group of three shows up: a bushy-haired woman, dressed in a long black coat and black trousers, a fellow in tight jeans, looking like Johnny Depp in a cheap crime flick, and a drunk man with a cigarette. The man is half pleading, half harassing the lady, grabbing for her shoulders, mumbling. When he gets too physical, the young man pushes him away in an easy motion – he is taller and very calm.
As I stand there, trying to assess the level of aggression, thinking whether I should interfere, a trolleybus arrives. The three get on, still arguing, and I follow. I sit facing them, thinking slow thoughts about fear (I’m not afraid of being hit, except for the face, because of the glasses and the braces). There are other people inside: a man in a cap, with a gold ring on his finger, is speaking importantly on his cell – ‘Yeah, I’ll call you tomorrow, after the shoot.’ A bulky middle-aged woman is frowning into the window.
The lady in the black clothes sits down, and her son (I’m guessing that’s what he is), wraps his arm loosely around her, protecting her from – his father? – trying to lean in from the back. His face looks skeptical and contemptuous. His whole posture broadcasts control. It feels like this is a familiar situation for them, requiring no intervention.
Yet there are newcomers on the bus who think otherwise. Several drunken kids about my age, dressed funky (one is wearing shiny golden sneakers, all of them in skinny jeans with silver chains), berate the man for assaulting the lady. They are insistent: threatening, upbraiding, gesturing, shouting; but ‘Johnny Depp’ is smiling, nodding – it’s alright, everything is fine.
The youngsters tumble out soon, taking the noise with them. The journey continues in silence, even the loud man is off his cellphone now. I look at the woman across from me, taking comfort in the sight of her confident, disapproving face and her trouser-clad elephantine legs. I think she might be a teacher, or an accountant. Sensible, respectable, no-nonsense, she is my safety (normality? reality?) anchor, and she doesn’t even know it.
When we get to my stop, the worrisome trio gets off and onto the same path I need to take to get home. They are still grumbling, but the boy does not need to shove the man anymore. I keep my distance, walking behind them. At some point they veer off. I pull my hood over my eyes and concentrate on the McGilliguddys playing in my earphones. This is not a bad movie, just a regular night.