The man and the boy ran together for the bus but there were no shared smiles at making it, no victory high-fives, no sighs of relief — not even a ”we wouldn’t have needed to run if you hadn’t…” It was a thing that had needed to be done and it was done.
The young man directed the boy, dressed like any of the city’s 10-year-olds in lurid ski jacket, snow pants, warm winter boots, toque and mittens, to sit down, and the boy swished to an aisle seat in the front row. The man stayed up front, paying with tickets, collecting transfers, looking out the window at the snowy road ahead. It was impossible to know whether his own outfit — leather jacket indifferently buttoned, knitted cap, jeans, unlaced workboots, no scarf or gloves — was the result of hurry or of study; the warmest things he could find on his way out the door, or winter cool.
The boy sat quietly, not fidgeting, not kicking his feet the way you do when your feet don’t go all the way to the floor. He looked around him without affect – no curiosity, but no lack of curiosity either. The man turned, looked to the back of the bus. His right index finger, down by his leg, pointed to the side and the man sitting in the aisle seat across from the boy moved over to let the boy’s companion sit. Not a glance exchanged between the two, just that discreet finger, pointing.
He sat but a minute later was back on his feet to talk to the bus driver, asking for time, distance, directions. The questions were quietly asked and answered but there was only one place between here and the end of the route that a man and boy might be rushing to.
His question answered the man sat back down in the seat. It was empty now, but he sat on the aisle, tacitly but aggressively barring strangers from the inside seat. He pulled out a phone and earbuds and plugged them in, not looking at the boy, who continued to sit quietly, not looking at the man. They were travelling together because they needed to, not because they wanted to. No animosity between them, but no friendship.
The bus stops and starts, slides a little in the late afternoon snowfall, finds its traction again and continues, through the lights, turn, stop. An older man boards, dressed in a neater, less expensive version of the young man’s getup – heavy canvas bomber jacket instead of leather, work pants, winter boots properly tied, hat, scarf, gloves. He casts his eye down the aisle and the young man looks up as if tapped on the shoulder and immediately slides over to make room. Recognizing the alpha. The older man nods but remains standing. Some men do that, it seems, to defy the emasculation that accompanies riding public transit instead of being masters of their own vehicular domain — as long as they’re up front, talking to the driver, they’re one of the boys, on the bus for fun and companionship instead of out of necessity. The older man doesn’t speak to the driver. He stands because it pleases him to stand.
The young man gestures to the boy, who joins him across the aisle. The young man does not remove his earbuds. They do not look at each other. They do not speak. They are travelling together but they are not together. Whatever awaits them at the end of their trip does not unite them. It just is.