On the Bus: Of The Awareness of Turkeys and People

The walk to the bus
Is a preview of spring,
Full of friendly jade trees and honeyed sunbeams,
And a warm wind smelling of sweet sap and freedom.
It tries to hold me there, to slow me,
But the bus will come and be gone, soon.
That wind is a nice reminder of how it is nicer to be seeing trees,
Than to be looking through them and seeing thoughts
And missing their beauty while chained to the mind.
This free breeze lingers by the bus stop.
I feel it,
The wild turkeys in the field feel it,
And I wonder if this businessman type with the slicked-back hair I see every time
Can feel it.
There is something different about his eyes today,
But I cannot place it.
I look back to the turkeys,
Rummaging through the grass,
And try to reach out.
I do not move or speak,
I try to reach them with my heart and focused energy.
And it could have only been in my head,
With nothing reaching the turkeys at all,
With my attempt at a sort of unspoken greeting,
Almost like how people wave to each other-
It could have been a coincidence, but-
Eight wrinkled bird heads raise up
At nearly the same instant.
Not frightened, they seem,
But pausing
And looking
At me.
I had not been expecting a response,
So I release all but the front two
And say hello without even thinking the word.
And their meandering path as they graze,
Still looking
At me,
Begins to come closer.
Quickly, I stop broadcasting out.
There is no time for turkeys now.
The bus should be here
The slicked-back hair man seems to be thinking this too.
He checks his watch.
But he has not spared the turkeys a second glance.
I watch them as they move down the field and cross the road.
The first two saunter across the asphalt,
Ignoring the cars waiting on them.
There is a third, several paces behind.
He is sauntering too,
But with a limp.
The cars move past after him, cutting the group in half.
The other turkeys don’t saunter.
They scuttle.
Which is good, because the bus is coming up the road.
Bus drivers don’t like stopping for turkeys,
As a general rule.
The last, littlest turkey just crosses the center line as the bus roars up.
He has a limp too,
And is moving (unevenly) as fast as his little legs can go
To get out of the road.
I can breathe easy once he’s clear,
Breathe easy and get on the bus.
On the bus,
I’m at the back, near the man with the slicked-back hair.
I look out the window as the bus moves along, collects more people.
We are halfway down the big hill
When I realize
I am the only one doing this.
Including the businessman from my stop,
Are looking at their phones,
Or staring at the seat in front of them without seeing,
With earbuds in
Or headphones on.
Are they thinking hard about something?
Are they trying to imagine being somewhere else?
Is being here on the bus so bad that they want to disappear?
I feel like the only one awake
In a world of sleepers.
It’s beautiful outside.
You can see the seasons change,
And nothing is ever the same twice.
I always like to watch for the orange cat.
He lives right about here.
And then I realize I’d been asleep too,
In a different way.
The man in the corner,
Where he always sits,
With down syndrome and the camo jacket,
Looks out the window too.
Does he also look for the orange cat?
The businessman pointedly ignores him.
I had been doing so too
Without realizing.
The businessman pretends not to notice
As the man smiles and waves at him
When their eyes make contact
The only person I’ve ever seen
Wave back
Is that short kid
Who sits across from him
Just a quick wave and
The flash of a friendly smile
Before disappearing into his own quiet world
And an iPhone.
That’s all.
That’s more than the businessman can do.
Could I do that?
I want to know what this detached man
With the slicked-back hair
Is feeling.
I reach out,
Like I did the turkeys.
He does not react
Or notice.
I can feel that he can’t see me there.
People are less aware than turkeys.
And anyways, I wasn’t trying to announce myself to him.
I was trying to be sneaky.
Just trying to focus on his energy.
And the grief I feel as I focus on him
Comes to me exactly as I realize
What is different about his eyes.
They don’t look sad, not unless you look for it,
But they do look
As though he had been crying.
When I slip out of his feelings,
I can see it in his body language, too.
The man with the crying eyes and the the slicked-back hair and the silver wedding band
Is tense and distant
Every time I see him,
But not more so than the average businessman
With slicked-back hair
That you see on the street.
But today he sighs,
A tiny, silent sigh,
That releases no tension,
Though that would probably help
A bit.
It is a troubled, unhappy motion without sound,
Despairing, perhaps.
Perhaps his dog has died.
Perhaps his spouse is deadly ill.
Perhaps he is unhappy with his life.
Still, he goes to work.
Perhaps that is what is making him unhappy.
Perhaps he hates his work.
I don’t know what he does.
I say businessman because he is
In demeanor.
I make a lot of assumptions,
About him
Based on his body language.
But he could be anybody.
A spy.
An accountant.
An father.
A businessman.
I will probably never know
Because professional
Means not talking to anybody
You don’t know
If you don’t have to.
If they wave to you on the bus.
It also means
Getting uncomfortable
If you notice someone
Noticing you,
So before he notices me
Noticing him,
I focus on a classmate instead.
I do not feel sadness from him.
I feel numbness.
He has earbuds in and is staring into space.
I know he is smart
And does well in school
And music
And sports
And has lots of friends,
But is this how people feel all day?
Was this how the professional man with the crying eyes felt
Every day
Before feeling sad?
Or are all of these feelings
That belong to other people
Just in my head
And not in them?
We are coming to the stop of the down syndrome man
With the sincere smile.
And he is polite
As he lets the person between him and the aisle know
That he needs to get up.
And without meaning to,
I am focusing on the young man who gets up
To let him past.
And I don’t know
If the sudden flash of fear I feel
Is mine or his
As the man with the big smile
And the bright grey eyes
Goes past us both.
If it is mine,
Am I really scared of being smiled at by a stranger on the bus
And having to smile back?
It’s not hard and I think it would come automatically
If someone else smiled first
Or even met my eyes.
I am not scared of this man
Or the fact that he is different.
I am different too.
We both look out the window
Sometimes seeing an orange cat.
So perhaps I am scared
Of the rigid social norm,
That brittle, uncomfortable silence
That is what professional people
Say is good,
Being broken.
Perhaps I am
The little girl
In her puffy pink parka
Is not scared of breaking it,
But she is protected by age,
And the gentle shushes of her mother.
She is not professional.
The man with the slicked-back hair stares at nothing
With those crying eyes.
He pretends not to notice as the man
Who is nice,
And real,
But not professional,
Walks past.
The man with the crying eyes
Is professional
Even though his eyes show signs of crying.
Maybe it is being professional
That made him cry.
My classmate is also professional.
He pretends not to notice things,
And he is very good at it.
But he is numb,
Feeling not much of anything,
Or trying not to,
And the man is sad.
Perhaps he tried to not feel anything
Until he had to let something in,
And it was sadness.
The little girl is not always bubbly.
Sometimes she is sad too
Or frustrated,
But she welcomes these feelings,
And mostly she is happy,
For now,
While she can remain unprofessional.
I have not yet gotten a good reading from the smiling man,
But he never seems numb
Or grieving.
These two men,
Both always riding the bus,
One professional,
One not.
I don’t think I am professional like the man who may or may not be a businessman,
Even if I seem it,
I am a chameleon,
Who can play the part and
Act like everyone else,
At least in this way.
Once I ignored the person who sat next to me all the way until I had to get off,
Like a good, professional girl.
And when I finally looked at her,
I saw a woman with a yoga mat in her backpack,
And the kindest face
I had ever seen,
So I smiled at her,
I may seem professional,
But if that man smiles or waves or even just looks
At me,
Then I will smile back.
I may seem professional,
But I look out the window,
And I try to talk to turkeys.
And I reflect on the contrasting men I don’t know,
Different, but perhaps they have more in common than they think.
Perhaps they are both a little lonely.
Perhaps they would both look for an orange cat,
If they both knew he was there.
Those different bus-riders,
The man in the corner who looks out the window and sometimes treats people to his smiles,
And the man with the slicked-back hair and the tearstained eyes.