151st Ride of 2017: STC Bus

At the station when nobody’s around.

With Spaceship’s presence in the morning, it didn’t take me any guesses to know that it would be around for my ride home. I wasn’t that confident about it, but I knew the probability of its presence would be higher than usual.

I was of correct. Without rushing a bit, for I was early, I used the front route to reach the station. It was a bit scary to see that none of the buses parked behind had that distinctive sticker that Spaceship has. A bit frantically, I looked around, and thank the universe, Spaceship was parked a bit to the front compared to its usual spot. I only managed to recognise it first from its plate number behind.

This happy sight caused me to quickly get my phone out to snap a picture, but as I approached the bus closer, I realised that Ironedshirtman was actually standing right in front of me, totally hidden from my view because of another bus parked there earlier. He was standing in front of the office, scrolling through his phone. I cancelled my plan (it would be weird to snap a picture of a bus you board quite frequently, in front of a driver you meet quite frequently..) and just headed straight to the front door, without knowing whether Ironedshirtman saw that someone was about to invade his bus.

No one was on board! I felt like running from the end of the aisle to another end, and sitting on each seat just for the fun of it. But the thought that Ironedshirtman was somewhere outside, behind that bus, scared me and reminded me to behave myself and just sit there silently.

A man joined me on board not long after that. He sat at the back, a bit far behind, and I didn’t feel threatened by his presence. The first moment I saw him climbing the steps I knew he was a pretty harmless, good fellow. Of course we didn’t exchange smiles, but when my eyes met his, I knew he’s just like me, just another passenger trying to get through the day.

The wait seemed a bit long. I had no idea whether Ironedshirtman was still standing at his original place or had left. There’s no way I could see him without making it rather obvious that I’m checking. So I sat there and did the usual, the good old people-watching and soul-searching and pseudo-intellectual-far-gazing-outta-the-window.

OldMan’s bus was in front, with a hug gap separating the two buses, and I could see OldMan loitering around. I was glad I didn’t need to be on that bus today.

Out of the blue, the man behind asked at what time would Spaceship be leaving. I turned my head around. It was just me and him on the bus. He couldn’t be asking someone outside. He was seated like normal, staring to the front, most probably at me. And he wasn’t talking on his phone or anything. I was pretty confident he was talking to me.

And his tone was pleasant. I didn’t get it wrong when I first read him.

I gladly answered his question, feeling a bit swelled with pride for being able to answer questions about bus schedules like a true member of the Elite Passenger Club, and also feeling like a useful member of the society for being able to contribute into something in this world today. I also told him that OldMan’s bus wasn’t going to leave until the next 30 minute. Obviously I was in a pretty OK mood to talk to strangers. And most importantly, I was feeling safe of talking to him.

We didn’t exchange any further words after that though. One can of coffee and several minutes later, Ironedshirtman finally appeared. Then it all happened as usual: paid my fare, received my ticket, got back my change, and questioned myself again and again why didn’t I ask about Squeeks and Pak Cik while waiting for Ironedshirtman to take out that 50 cent coin he was going to return to me.

And as the bus was about to leave the station, three more passengers came, including an old man I saw earlier today on the morning ride. He seemed to recognise me, just as how I recognised him. I could tell it by the look in his eyes.

He sat across the aisle, one seat in front. The journey began. I was on my usual seat, my favourite spot. The other two passengers were in front, with the man speaking on the phone in my native tongue with a pleasant accent.

That’s when I realised that the old man was sketching something on his huge drawing book. It wasn’t hard to see. He was sketching someone. He was sketching me.

I pretended to not notice this, but it did make me feel a bit fidgety. It was funny, in a way. I don’t exactly know why my first reaction was to find it funny. A tiny part of me did tell me to move away and switch seats to the front where the man on the phone had just left. But as a person who has a high appreciation for the arts, I just remained there. I’ve been following artists’ pages on social media, and have been liking how they have the courage to sketch in public. What harm could an old man sketching me do, I asked myself. He’s just an arts enthusiast. He’s sketching me. He’s bringing a hugeass drawing book. That’s a legit sign of an artist. Running away would be a little cruel.

So I sat there, pretending that I didn’t notice. After a while, I guess he realised that I noticed, or maybe in the first place it was his intention to get my attention. I don’t know, and really, I don’t mind.

He handed over the sketch to me, and I gladly accepted it. It was tricky to show a reaction of gratitude without being too naive. I know that if this happened in European country it would be perfectly normal, but I live in Kuching, where people don’t just get sketched freely like it’s a normal everyday occurrence.

My mind made a quick judgement. If I just accepted the sketch and say thank you, that would be the end to it. But something just told me that it wouldn’t be wrong to ask for a photo with him.

So I did that. I asked for a wefie with him, and to be honest that was something completely out of my comfort zone. He also asked for a wefie on his camera, which I wasn’t sure was a wise decision to have said yes to, but I allowed two photos anyway. Ironedshirtman was seeing what I was doing, and I was afraid of being judged. What if he’s shaking his head, thinking that I was a bit too naive to have openly allowed a stranger to interact with me? It was after taking the photo on his camera that I began to think that perhaps I had made a mistake, but I told myself again and again it was just a normal wefie, and our photos are lying somewhere in places we don’t know anyway.

I talked a bit with the man, in English, but there were several barriers in our communication. He showed me his portfolio, consisting of artworks and newspaper articles, together with photos of him and the people he had sketched. It was convincing. I knew I was talking to a legit artist. Some of his photos were with children in school, seemingly taken during art workshops, so my initial fears about him slowly faded away. I told him that I love drawing too, and showed me some of the photos of my artwork consisting of pencil portraits which I had uploaded on Instagram.

He then told me that I could visit him at the temple near Bau to get a proper sketch. The fact that he drew the map to the temple and told me that I could go there with my friends gave me a bit of a Karate Kid vibe. Does he live at the temple? I don’t know. He then gave me a photocopied article of a newspaper in Mandarin for me to keep. Of course I can’t read Mandarin, but he told me I don’t need to know what’s written, I just needed to see that that’s him in the photo. Maybe he just wanted to convince me that he’s a real, legit artist.

I sent a message to a friend together with an attachment of the article, and my friend knows this man. I was given a rough translation of the article, a brief background of the man and the news of a workshop and exhibition he was going to conduct. It feels a bit bizarre to have a person sketch you on a bus ride. I almost wanted to ask the man, why didn’t he sketch the driver instead? But I guess today the universe just decided to give me this pretty bizarre experience, and I’m good with that.

The sketch.

When the man got off his stop, I raised my hand and said “See you.” It then returned into an ordinary ride. Mak Cik Amoi boarded, talking briefly to Ironedshirtman in their native tongue. A man I recognised boarded, a man who used to sell pineapples with his mother on a wheelchair at a bus stop just a few stops away from my home. I was getting closer to home, and I was still feeling that the whole thing that happened earlier was pretty surreal.

That scary moment when it seems like the driver knows what you’re up to.

When we reached my stop, I rang the bell and headed towards the front door. As usual, I said my thanks to Ironedshirtman. Today he answered me with a pretty loud OK which sounded more like A-KAY, an Americanized form of OK haha.

It felt cool to have such a bizarre bus ride on the start of a new month, and I do have to say that although it was a bit awkward for me to have gone out of my comfort zone, I’m glad for the experience. It somehow adds another story to be told here.

And that was my one hundred and fifty-first bus ride of 2017.

Seat: 4th, right.
Weather: Sunny.

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