An Awkward Conversation

It was a wet morning and the ground seemed to sweat towards the city’s drains. I walked, shoulders tensed, as the rain dripped down my coat and off the brim of my hat. I kept a swift pace as I was not one to dilly dally while vulnerable to the sky’s droplets. I then took refuge under the shelter of the bus stop’s canopy and found a spot on the bench; it was empty except for a single fellow sitting on the opposite end.

“Hello!” The man half yelled at me from the other side, his face bright as it poked itself out from the confines of his hood.

“Good morning,” I said back politely. I could sense that this fellow was a bit off, perhaps even mentally ill, but I was indifferent to conversing with him regardless.

“Yeah, it’s not too good of a morning, is it? I’ve never been a big fan of the rain. What about yourself? Yeah, that’s what I thought. It’s just dreary. Too dreary. Never been a big fan of the rain, myself,” he talked fast and simply took my expressions for answers to his questions, never giving me time to respond. But like I said, I did not wish to talk at all. It was early in the morning and, well, I’m just not that much of a morning person.

“Do you find yourself on South Street Seaport often? Mostly I’m around this area. I like the smells and sounds here the best out of the whole city. It’s not that I don’t love the rest of the city, it’s just this area. I just like it here the most,” he rambled on while I tried to seem somewhat interested, although his gaze would often dance about the scenery avoiding my own. I began to look up and down him now, attempting to get an idea of just who this fellow was. His pants seemed large on his thin build. They were a tan-ish-brown, but they’d been darkened by a myriad of stains and marks. He wore an army green parka that had a patch on the shoulder that simply read: LOST. I wondered if the patch was his own addition, or if it was present when he’d procured the coat.

“I’ve done all sorts of jobs here in the city. I worked as a stockbroker, actually, for awhile. Then I quit that and found other odd jobs. Coffee shops, sanitation positions, homeless for awhile, now I do work as a stand up comedian,” his diverse experience struck me as odd. I couldn’t quite picture this fellow doing much else other than talking. He was an avid speaker, although he seemed ignorant of most social cues.

“A stockbroker and a stand up comic? You’ve had quite the change of interest, sir, if I may say,” to get in a word I had to almost cut him off, as he began to spout sentence after sentence without letting me blurt a response.

“Oh, well yeah, I guess. I’ve been know to get quite bored quite quickly. Never done one thing for too long. Seems like a waste. There’s too many experiences to be had and too short an amount of time to experience,” I was struck by his sudden remarks of wisdom.

“I commend your broad range of talents, sir. Is that why you’ve got that patch on your coat?” I replied back, as I found myself getting sucked into this man’s odd, arrhythmic world.

“Why thank you, you seem like a nice guy. Oh yes, the patch! Well, I made the patch, myself. I made it because I like getting lost. When I was a stockbroker, I thought I’d found my calling, because the money was nice. But soon I hated feeling like I’d found what mattered most. I wanted to feel like there was still something to search for. So yeah, I made this patch to feel like I never have to ‘find’ my calling or whatever. I can just be lost!” I could appreciate this sentiment, although it seemed wildly impractical.

“I’m a little bit different than most, if you couldn’t tell. My upbringing may have something to do with it. My mother was a very cruel woman. Ma fed me all sorts of medicine to make me sick. I spent several months in the hospital as a child because of it. Eventually I was removed from her and she killed herself not a year later. I still mourned her,” I found his words jarring and my mind struggled to match his pace of thought progression. I had no desire to hear about his “Ma.” Who did this man think I was, his therapist?

“I’m sorry to hear of your misfortune, sir. That sounds like a terrible time.” I said this feebly as I felt my ears burn hotter with each passing sentence the man uttered. I simply couldn’t understand why he’d want to be telling me all of this.

“The truth of the matter is this: I loved Ma despite her wicked ways. She wasn’t a good person, but everyone loves their mother, right? I was often disobedient and accepted punishment for my actions. Aside from the medicine, she’d often lock me outside of the house for days. The rain always reminds me of those times. I loved her though, we only get one mother, right?”

The man now had stood up and began to pace back and forth, staring upward at the droplets berating the transparent shelter. Sometimes he’d walk close to me and I could smell his uncleanliness. He smelled raw and expired, like a worn out product that anyone with sense would’ve discarded years ago. Despite our suddenly close proximity, he hadn’t looked at me since he’d risen from his seat.

“Sir, I’m very sorry to hear about this. Please, if you will, I’d prefer not to hear anymore of your woes. There must be some happy aspect of your life to be told?” I sat stiffly, held rigid by this awkward conversation. I thought this to be the wrong setting to be discussing such matters. What good did it do him if I knew all of his problems? At any moment another stranger or two might come huddle beside us in our bus stop shelter. Surely then he’d feel this to be an inappropriate topic to discuss at a bus stop with complete strangers.

“Yeah, there has been good times too. Sometimes the bad ones are just more sticky than the good ones. They stick to me, ya know? The good ones run away from me sometimes. My comedy! I could tell you a joke from my routine! Yeah, I love comedy. So, here goes. Are you ready? I tell ya, my time in this city has certainly changed me. When I came here, I used to believe in common courtesy, hospitality, but now I can see the only thing this city seems show any sense of hospitality to, are the rats! Ah, haha! That’s a good one right? The rats!” I chuckled and grinned politely at the man’s joke. Afterall, his livelihood supposedly depended on these jokes.

“Comedy is a great way to brighten up such a dreary day, sir. I’m quite glad to see just how much you enjoy your work.”

“Haha! Of course! Thank you, friend. That’s nice of you to say. Yeah, Ma never could quite appreciate my humor. She thought it to be crude and in poor taste. I used jokes, when I was a kid, to distract myself. Ma was a violent woman. A very angry soul. She’d place pills in my food without me knowing and then I’d be up sick for entire nights. I missed plenty of school and fell behind on my grades. I was held back three times! But the school never knew about the pills,” he’d suddenly shifted the conversation back to the topic of his mother. I felt my discomfort heighten. I checked my watch, anxious for my bus to arrive.

I felt I could no longer participate in this conversation with him and I resorted to simply facials expressions and polite nods. I just hoped he wouldn’t notice my sudden lack of interest. He seemed unstable and there was a drifting fear in the back of my mind that he might be dangerous.

“Ma wasn’t sober for much of the day. She’d go to bingo every monday night and that was about the only night she’d stay sober, I think it was because she was hoping to keep her wits about her. She’d often win a lot of money at bingo, so I guess you could say she was a lucky woman. Although she certainly didn’t seem to think so. She’d often complain about the house being untidy, and blame me for making a mess, even after I had cleaned up after myself. I just tried to stay out of her way, most of the time. Perhaps the only thing she did do for me was cook my meals, ya know, cuz’ of the pills. But like I said, I loved her, and I still do despite everything she did to me,” the man rambled like their would be drastic consequences if he’d stop talking for even a moment.

Once again I checked my watch and noticed that not two minutes had passed since I’d last peeked at it. As I glanced up, I could see my bus approaching. I found immense relief at its sight.

“Well, sir, it’s been a pleasure. I wish you the best of luck with your comedy. I’m quite sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. Enjoy your day, sir,” I stood up quickly, without him even noticing my change of position.

“Oh, yeah, that’s my bus too. Great! I was beginning to think it would never come. Well, isn’t that lucky. I’ll be able to tell you the rest of my story. Ma always scorned me for talking too much. She hated hearing my stories. Found them crude and in poor taste.”

I hustled to the bus as he followed uncomfortably close behind me, leaning forward so he could speak directly into my ear. I suddenly felt rage. I wanted to scream at his face. I wanted to describe to him how inappropriate this conversation was. I wanted to save anyone else from enduring this intolerable man. This man meant well, I’m sure of it, but his constant talking irked me to no end. I sat down and stared out the window. He sat adjacent to my seat and continued with the story of his wicked mother.

“So, Ma would often hide medicine in my meals, as you know. She’d use her prescription drugs that weren’t meant for kids, which I’m sure she knew, considering how evil she could be.”

“Oh, excuse me, I believe I left my briefcase at the bus stop. I won’t be but a moment, sir.” I then proceeded to get up from my position, briefcase in hand, and walked directly off of the bus. The man didn’t seem to notice or care. He did not cease the telling of his tales of his mother, and instead, simply redirected his speech to the woman who had been sitting in front of me. Before I exited through the bus doors, I briefly looked back at him and saw the woman twisting backward in confusion.

The red of the brake lights seemed to stare at me accusingly as I watched the bus depart. I thought about going back onto the bus for an instant as my guilt sprouted. That poor woman. I felt like I’d ruined a life, but I just couldn’t take it. I’d have done anything to end my torment, even if it meant passing it on to someone else. As I processed my shame, I flipped up the collar on my coat, tipped my hat downward some, and strode through the unrelenting rain. My only company, now, was my guilt.

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