I’m not sure whether I should laugh or cry at the level of confidence that I briefly had. It was just yesterday that I said Spaceship is back to its predictable routine, but today proved me otherwise.
Heading to the bus stop as usual, I had high hopes. In the past two days Spaceship had been around. What could go wrong?
Of course things are far from being predictable. As 10 minutes passed without any sight of the bus, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I began wondering what if Spaceship had actually arrived earlier when I hadn’t reached the bus stop yet. But that would be too early. But again that had happened once before. Minutes passed. The clock was about to hit 8, but I still told myself to calm down. Give it another 5 to 10 minutes, as usual. Pass that 5 to 10 minutes mark, drop all hopes and wait for another 15 minutes.
I did wonder though whether MoustachedMan would be around. Since the early morning ride with him last Friday, it got me thinking that what if he no longer drives at 8 anymore? He’s the best second option if Spaceship happens to be missing. I don’t really fancy waiting for nearly an hour for the next ride on an aircond bus with Whitecapman.
But at 8 sharp, my question was answered. One good thing about MoustachedMan is that when he’s around, he’s very punctual. And when I saw that bus arriving at 8 on the dot, I knew who it was.
The bus was different though. It wasn’t Clanks, it wasn’t Clanks 2.0, but it was that bus that I very rarely get, a bus that I named Bernard’s Bus. What I understand about this bus is that it is being used also for the route to Bau. I’ve never been on it with MoustachedMan.
I was the first passenger of the trip. Without any bro-ship gestures, I handed over my fare to MoustachedMan, and as usual, he received it with a blank expression. MoustachedMan’s smile is pretty expensive, but when he does smile or reply to your thanks, you know he’s a good man.
I marched to the back, to the 9th or 10th seat on the right side. It’s always been that way when I’m the first passenger of a ride. My brain just automatically sends my feet to walk some extra steps and settle somewhere behind.
As we passed bus stops, more and more passengers joined the ride, but most of them chose the seats in front. Only one lady chose a seat near me, joining me in the back half squad, while another chose a seat in the middle.
We stopped in front of Sentosa Hospital, a psychiatric hospital. A man, neatly dressed, around the age of 50, hopped on board, carrying only some packets of medications. Apart from that, he was completely empty-handed. He didn’t bring any plastic bags to carry his medications. He just held them like that.
Out of the many empty seats available, he chose the one directly behind mine. I didn’t give much thoughts about him initially. It did look odd that he was carrying his medications that way, but he was dressed decently and showed no signs of oddities. He opened the window behind me, then started lighting up his cigarette. I was furious that he just had to do this directly behind me, when there were many other empty seats behind, but I ignored his actions. It’s never wise to show anger to someone when you’re alone in a crowd of strangers.
He coughed and I could feel the air pass through my hair. Again, I ignored this.
Only after he had stopped smoking, he moved to a different seat somewhere behind. Seemed like a good sign. I was back to having my own personal space with no one near me.
I was wrong. Just two traffic lights later, when I was happily having my packed breakfast of bread and nuggets, when the traffic light was red, this man suddenly just rose up and landed himself on the seat directly in front of me. This time, shit was about to get real.
Because dios mio, he turned around, slowly at first, then completely looked me in the eyes, and that was it, that was enough to make me say nope, I’m noping the fuck outta here.
Without much thought, but as nonchalantly as I could, trying to show no signs of fear or anger, I grabbed my stuff, stood up, and walked to the front, with my bread still in my hand and my half-chewed nugget still in my mouth.
Thank the heavens that there was exactly one seat at the left side in front still empty, and behind and in front of that were all women who I guess could save and protect me if this man happened to be following me. And I wanted to get as close to MoustachedMan as possible, so that he too, could save me if anything was about to happen.
Nothing happened after that though. I didn’t look back to check what the strange man was up to. I tried to act casual, but I think MoustachedMan knew I was running away. In times like this it made me wonder, would MoustachedMan be of useful help if I were to be harassed by a stranger? Even though I am a regular passenger who the bus drivers already recognise, would they be reliable people I could seek protection from if something happens? Would Capman, Ironedshirtman, and Pak Cik help me? It’s a bit of a scary thought that saddens me a bit because it made me realise that perhaps we’re all alone in the real world after all.
When we passed the General Hospital and the man didn’t get off, I kept my guard up. I was pretty sure when he boarded, he paid the fare to head to the GH as what he had told MoustachedMan. I heard him say that. The woman and her kid behind me left, and again I felt unprotected because it felt as if no one was shielding my back.
We reached the station. I didn’t rush to get up, but I stayed alert. Thinking that the man was already out through the middle door and walking to the back of the bus, I wanted to get out of the front door and leave that his opposite direction.
I was already walking along the aisle to the front when I saw that he was actually heading to the road in front as he got off. Like a soldier on the lookout, I had to bend a bit to see where he was heading to and hope that he went out of view fast. By this time, it was just MoustachedMan and me left on the bus. As soon as the man was completely gone, only then I felt the courage to leave and I quickly left at the opposite direction without looking behind. I’m not sure whether MoustachedMan knew why I was acting that way. I wasn’t entirely scared, but my defense mechanism told me that MoustachedMan was the only person who could help me if that man didn’t go away.
That was a pretty rare experience. Bus rides aren’t always that weird. Today it was definitely one of the weirder realities of riding buses. I’m not sure whether the man was even right in the head, was just being hungry, or was completely normal but wanted to intimidate me. If he was a man with mental illnesses, I empathise on him and can’t blame him for how he behaved. But if he wasn’t, then I have to say that this experience tells me about how hard it is to find the balance and draw the line between being careful around strangers by completely shielding myself from any form of interaction (dangers do not always come in apparent forms, I realise) and actually just be myself and trust my own judgements, and continue to treat strangers as how I’ve been doing all this while.
And that was my one hundred and fifty-fourth bus ride of 2017.
Seat: 9th/10th right, then 4th left.