Speak No Evil
For nearly ten years, through high school and into university, I blogged nightly. Most of the writing was trite and self-aggrandizing, but every once in a while I would recount a story of some noteworthy merit.
I happened to uncover some of my old writing, and re-reading it has been very fulfilling. It’s interesting to see how far one has come, and I’m fortunate enough to have a huge portal into a younger me.
As I can, I’m going to post some of the more intruging old pieces. This one is from October 24, 2006, when I was working in Scarborough during a co-op term. (N.b., I’ve deliberately left the story unedited. Some of the original language may be offensive.)
Sometimes, the ironies I encounter in my life seem so ridiculously well placed that I’m almost tempted to believe in fate. Normally I don’t feel that everyone’s “path” is mapped out by some greater power, but rather we’re all meant to experience X amount of a given life event: disappointment, victory, defeat, love, etc. However, on days like today, it’s hard to ignore the coincidences that life always seems to manifest.
What am I talking about, you question? Well, today was my 22nd birthday, and it was today that I finally realized how “real” life is in the fair city of Toronto. I know that sounds strange, but it was only today that I really realized where I am in the grand scheme of things and how the world really is. What’s strange is that my day — and perhaps even my year — was defined by a single solitary passing of about 30 seconds or so on the bus ride home today. The event which I am referring to was over before I could even appreciate what had happened, and yet the reprecussions of what happened would leave me thinking about so much.
But enough explanation: on with the story.
A somber, lonely and long day of work was coming to a close. I’d accomplished a pretty fair amount during my time at the TDSB today, and so I was feeling fairly good as I storde out of the office and into the Sun. Though the day was coming to an end, I couldn’t help but marvel at how long it had been. It seemed like years ago that I woke up at 6 am and headed to the GO Train. It seemed like ages ago that I sat in Union awaiting the next ride east at the hands of the cancelled 7:30 train. But, all this thought was for not: the day was over and I was heading home.
As I headed into the Scarborough RT station, flashing my pass to the attendant, I noticed a young slender girl in front of me. Her body and manner seemed young, but her face appeared old and tarnished with the apparent wear that her life wrought upon her.
She proceeded down the stairs in front of me, and continued to shadow my path right up to the very bus stop where I needed to wait. We stood together, in silence, and we boarded together, seperately. I sat on one end of the three-person bench, she on the other. I surveyed the bus, as I tend to do, and my eyes fell upon hers: a smile was shared and then instantly hidden again in the frown of every-day life.
As it does most days, the bus began rolling along the urban rails of the Scarborough mid-town. People returned to their cell phones and their conversations, drowning out my thoughts. I occasionally decide to head to the station without my music on — days that I want to play the DS on the train, I tend to forego the music for battery life, and with my recent acquiring of Contact, I decided today would be such a day. Typically, this proves to be a bad decision, as the bus quickly fills with the sounds of angsty teenagers, angry and eager-to-impress urban trogldytes and the typical array of “bus characters”.
Strangely, none of the typical characters were there: the guy who picks up the trash on the bus, the crazy old man who talks to himself, the young asian kid who sells chronic over the phone as though he was making legitimate business calls, the old brown woman who absolutely cannot stand and will go out of her way to find a seat at the front of the bus, the strange skinny tall white woman who stands at the front of the bus and bottlenecks the incoming passenger traffic regardless of how many stops she has to go, the slutty high-school chica who comes on to a different prepubescent boy with each ride — all were absent on this day.
Indeed, it seemed that today’s ride would be the most dull and quick trip of the year. For almost the entire trip, the ride was relatively easy and I remained positioned a seat down from the worn girl.
Eventually, the bus came to the biggest stop on the circut: Bellamy and Ellesmere. Typically a very large transfer point for people getting on and off, only one person boarded: a mid-20s asian thug with a small mp3 player hanging from his neck and an all-around rugged and dishelved appearance. I wouldn’t have paid any special attention to him were it not for the fact that he broke the cardinal rule of male bus-goers: he sat in the middle seat between the girl and I, thus rendering me — and surely himself — uncomfortable.
Little did I know that his intentions were to do just that, very purposefully.
Within moments of the bus’ resumed driving, the man turned to the girl and quickly looked her over. As he was within earshot, I could hear everythign he was saying — despite the fact that he was doing his best to speak privately to the girl (regardless of the current surroundings). He began talking to her, and naturally I began ease-dropping. They hadn’t shown any signs of acknowledgement of each other before he sat down, so I wondered what the story was. Given the relatively impersonal tone that their conversation took to begin, I concluded that he was merely trying to woo her with his asian thug charm.
I was dead wrong.
After a few short sentences of conversation, I quickly realized that their talk had taken a turn for the worse. His mumbling became much less audible, until he uttered the sentence that would stick in my head for the rest of the day.
He looked at her straight in the eye and said, without flinching or moving:
“I’m going to fucking kill you and there isn’t a damn thing you or anyone can do to stop me.”
At first, I did a mental double-take. Did he really just say that? Was it a joke? Are they friends and he’s just playing around? When I saw her face, though, every question was answered. Tears piled up along the rims of her eyelids, and a gush was ready to burst the weak damn of her frail composition. Her eyes hinted with a slight touch of disbelief and she looked towards the bus driver, as though she was looking for a safety net.
The asian was quick to remove any such luxury from her mind, though, as he looked towards the bus driver and scoffed, “He won’t be able to stop me. It’ll be done before anyone notices.”
He then paused and looked towards a big white gangster-looking guy in an Echo jacket towards the front of the bus, only to remark to her “Even that big cracker won’t be able to stop me.”
At this point, I’d heard and comprehended the entire situation, and I felt that same feeling as I did oh so long agao when the slipper-criminal alerted the bus Ian and I were on that he was robbing us. A surge of adrenaline and a rush of quick planning. Should I say something? No, it isn’t my place. Yea, but that’s not right. And if he has a knife, or a gun? I really doubt that he does. Well, say you say something and a fight starts; good luck taking this bus unscathed for the rest of the semester — my mind was a volley of dedication and courage, fright and despair.
I knew in my heart of hearts that I really couldn’t do anything but look somewhat imposing and hope for the best, so I looked at her again with the grimmest face I could muster, and when she made eye contact with me, he took notice.
He turned to me and with the most scornful eyes I’ve seen in my life, did a once over of me. Clad in my business-casual attire, I surely didn’t look the role of one who would pose a fight, though surely my size did me a service that many do not have the luxury of having; it paid to be a big guy today.
Not one to look away, I stared right back at him for what seemed like an eternity. Sensing her desperation, I allowed my eyes to shift back to her, and then him again, noticing that he’d locked on me and seemed to offer no chance of letting go. I then looked towards the big white gangster guy who the asian had called out earlier, and he looked back at me — he was aware of what was going on, and had heard the cracker remark.
Not a single word punctured the tense air. The asian followed my eyes and then smirked. He stood, fixed his mp3 player, tapped the girl on the face and then headed for the front of the bus, saying thank you to the bus driver before looking back and exiting the bus.
With door closed and bus in motion, I looked towards the girl. Her dam finally burst and she began sniffling and quickly swabbing the tears from her eyes. The white gangster relinquished his interest and returned to his cell phone, but I wasn’t so quick to let the preceeding air dissapate. The entire bus was oblivious to the goings-on.
It was now just her and I.
I couldn’t help but watch her cry; it was such a surreal moment — perhaps the most uncanny of my entire life. It was then that I realized how sheltered my life truly had been. What crime had I seen? What reality had I ever witnessed?
They say that games and movies desentize you to violence, but it was only today that I truly realized how much of a crock of shit such a belief really is. I saw no violence today, but merely the threat and feeling of impending violence was enough to jar me out of the complacency, the naivity that shrouded my life.
It was only today, on my 22nd birthday, that I realized just how real the world is. For all I know, that girl could be dead now. All for just a bag of coke, or a turned-down trick.
Her sadness engulfed me, and I felt incredibly ashamed of not being able to do anything. With eyes still locked on her, she turned to me and sought consolment without saying a word. I mustered a short blast of speech into the air, though quickly locked up not a moment later: “Are you okay?” Unable to produce any vocalization of the terror and fear that was so visibly evident in her quaking frame, she simply nodded and resumed her tears. It was then that I recalled I had some kleenex in my bag, so I reached in and passed her a handful. She dried her eyes, but they remained so only for a moment before the next tide commenced. For the remainder of the trip, not a word was said. To me, it seemed as though the once fury-inducing air pollution of the bus chatter had grown silent: all that remained was my incredibly loud thoughts.
My stop came and I got off, never once letting my eyes fall off the girl. She didn’t look back, even as the bus passed over the horizon: never looking back, just staring ever-forward as though she’d already been killed and buried.
So was the trip home today; a tiny incident that had huge reprecussions. Surely my pathetic prose cannot be eloquent or vivid enough to document such an epiphany. I’m no Joyce. I’ve spent too many words on this already. I’m tired.
Unlike previous years, I have no giant recap and projections for the coming year; that complacent routine has been rumbled right out of me. Perhaps I’ll say something tomorrow, perhaps not.
For now, all I can think about is the look on that girl’s face. The look of hopless, utter desperation — forever stained on the canvas of my mind — tjat looked so frightening familiar, as though I’d seen it somewhere before, looking back at me.