Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Riders by Day

On the bus an old man, neatly dressed in well kept, somewhat vintage clothing, comprised of a black suit, overcoat, a large brimmed dark hat and a wide ivory-colored silk scarf, sat quietly alone in a seat facing me. He was looking off. Paying attention elsewhere. His left hand mildly shook. It turned and occasionally squeezed. My own thoughts kept me occupied so I gave him no mind. I was jotting down notes on things I had seen that morning.

Later, I took a break from note making to look around and at the passengers again. There were students, shoppers, a middle age business man impatient to get where he was going, some laborers and the old man one seat away in front of me, again noticing his tremor. After all, he was nearly eighty.

This time I looked longer and began to recognized the hand movements. More concentrated. They were abbreviated versions of the common gestures many Italians use when they speak. I continued observing until I realized, though his lips were mostly still with only slight twitches, his head nodded slightly as we rode along. I am sure the old man was passing time, off somewhere, talking to someone.

The bus swung the long corner by Trajan’s Market on Via Nationale, the kind of place you would pass with little regard. The battered ancient building has glass in the windows now. Even the entire front entrance is glassed in for the first time in two thousand years. No longer a public market, it’s used as another of the many museums of Roma.

I was jotting a note for later when I looked up to notice another bus rider across from me in a rather shabby old dark baggy suit. Another slightly different rider, this gaunt, moderately thing man wore a coarse open collar dark blue plaid hunters type of shirt and scuffed, dirty white tennis shoes. He was bald. Maybe his head was shaved, maybe not. His pockets bulged, stretched with papers and pens and what have you.

In his hands he had a folded sheet of white paper. Folded very similar to how I folded mine and was hard at work making notes. Then I saw his pen. I saw it and made the connection. His pen was exactly like mine. I make notes and it’s the first time I saw someone, anyone, not only making notes, but using the same size of white folded paper and the exact pen I was using. A writer, I thought. A coincidence, or perhaps he is a writer.

He finally looked my way and I slightly indicated by looking down and turning my hands for him to show my pen in one hand and the folded paper I had in the other, folded with notes scribbled on. He looked, definitely saw, then looked away again. The coincidence of similarities of our apparatus made no visible impression on him whatsoever. I glanced then by his feet, and those beat up tennis shoes, and saw the large full plastic bags bulging with clothes that he was porting. I looked up and saw the extreme rumples in his baggy suit and realized this kindred spirit must, to a perceptible degree, be out of his ever loving mind. I put my pen back in my pocket and made a mental note to remember what I saw. There was no need to write as hard as he.

After leaving the bus I was walking in the November chill a few blocks near Piazza Vittorio, with many people and cars about, when it occurred to me that after nearly twenty years experience in Roma I have a 14.7 % loss in my ability as I walk to observe to the side. If the condition worsens I’ll have to leave Roma. Yes, either that or find myself begin to stand in doorways, eventually to become unaware of the existence of others in the world.


TomC said...

Ahhh... it's like I am riding, then walking there beside you. It is a good place to be, observing then figuring how you fit into the scheme of things.

Annie King said...

I read some of your posts, like this one, and I wonder if you write fiction, too. I can see you turning these observations into a significant short story, maybe a very short flash fiction, or something more fully developed. The concept of the man making similar notes, using the same kind of pen, is intriguing. As the reader, I thought I was witnessing the mirror image of the narrator, and then I remember, oh, this isn't fiction. Sometimes turning reality into fiction tells a larger truth. I like the way you concluded this entry, definitely a veiled connection to the twin/not twin on the bus.